Wanko soba in Morioka
After Tono, I left the countryside and went to Morioka, at the north of Honshu, for what I expected to be my last stop. Luckily, I was wrong. Indeed, the first thing I did upon arriving was to look for a hotel and since I wanted to make it simple, I checked out this one, right in front of the station:
Fortunately, it was too early to check in. So, instead of waiting, I just thought about the situation...for the end of the holidays, I had to do something better, and then gave a call to another place...but I'll leave that for tomorrow!
Morioka is the region(Iwate-ken)'s prefecture, but clearly there's nothing to do there and it's definitely not a town I'd like to live in. It is renowned for its craftwork, but also for its culinary specialty: wanko-soba...which are basically noodles, it's the way they're eaten that makes them so specific. It follows a ritual that looks like a game, and here are the rules...First, you have to wear an apron. Why? Aren't people able to eat properly? I wondered exactly the same thing, but I quickly understood! The explanation comes below...
Now here's the idea: you have to eat wanko-soba until you're full and cannot have anymore! First, the waitress brings side dishes...then it comes: a tray of 15 bowls of noodles. Each bowl contains about one or two mouthfuls of soba, and 15 equals a large bowl. Then it starts! You have a waitress only for you:
She stands there the whole time and, refilling your bowl as soon as you finish it. When all 15 are gone, she brings another tray...When you cannot eat anymore, there's only one way to end. Begging her to stop won't have any effect, you must put a lid on your bowl before she refills it. The rule states that as long as you have noodles in your bowl, you must eat them. And trust me, she knows her job and is fast at refilling!
So what's the apron for? Well, since you eat fast and the noodles come with some broth (by the way, the noodles themselves have an exceptionally good taste, even with no topping), indeed you end up spilling some on you.
As you eat, the bowls are stacked on the table. After the first series of 15:
I finally stopped at 60, completely full and here I am, looking groggy after my performance:
60 is not exceptional, it's just a large meal and I think any guy can do it. I could have probably gone up to 75, maybe 90, but I had a bus to catch after that and I didn't want to throw up inside. Anyway a good challenge is 100, I think. Whent it's over, you get a certificate:
And a booklet with various information about wanko-soba, notably the top ten performances. By the way, the record, from 1996, is...559 bowls !!! (right column on the next picture)
Here's a small link that briefly sums up the tradition and rules of wanko-soba.