Saturday, June 28, 2014

An Okinawa Soba - Takaesu Soba (Yushi Tofu Soba)

Changing things up and sharing an Okinawa Soba today, Byaay(!)...

A quick primer on Okinawa Soba can be read on my Hamaya Soba post from 2011, a unique soup noodle dish that isn't soba in the true sense as buckwheat aren't used in the noodles, but also is neither a ramen or udon that is ubiquitous to the islands. The Yushi Tofu Soba variant where fluffy fresh unformed Shima-Tofu is sieved over as topping (Yushi Tofu in mainland called Oboro Tofu), Takaesu Soba (高江洲そば) in Urasoe City has taken credit as the originator.

Often simply referred as Tofu Soba, I couldn't pinpoint when and the story behind why it came about but as far as I can remember definitely wasn't around when I was a kid. Things like it can randomly happen I suppose. Any case you can now find Yushi Tofu Soba on the menu of many Okinawa Soba shops.

Takaesu resides on the first floor of a smaller apartment complex. The building recently renewed, the interior was squeaky clean but still retains a homely charm. The day was filled with your usual school kids and family crowd. Popular, there's usually a wait.

Although the word Tonkotsu immediately evokes the opaque-white ramen soup of Kyushu-style for most, any stock that primarily includes pork bones, clear or otherwise is tonkotsu by nature as the word simply means 'pork bones' (as was my recent Shio Ramen from KIZO).

With additional good ratio of kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) dashi, the familiar aroma and flavors are comforting, irresistible and without substitute. The addition of the very fresh tofu brings in a nice mellowness in flavor and texture to the mix and matched well with the medium rich broth. Typical condiments below which are your benishoga (red pickled ginger), shichimi and Koregusu - chili peppers seeped in Awamori sake.

[Brief factoid: Koregusu in the Okinawan dialect means Korean Chili Peppers which the Shima Togarashi (Island Chili Peppers) originated from -- the Korean peninsula in the 18th century. The same word condiment Koregusu was said created by an Okinawan transplant living in Hawaii that took inspiration from the island's Chili Pepper Water in the Meiji era. Said as the person would occasionally revisit Okinawa the condiment slowly spread and took root.]

Okinawa Soba is never greasy like some ramen but can rival in meaty toppings. One very popular is the Soki which is stewed rib meat. Takaesu's Soki Soba a friend ordered. Meat extremely tender and well seasoned, slightly sweet with shoyu flavor. We then joke at how these on the island were never this tender and flavorful when we were kids. Between the time and now, an evolution had happened with what we assume more modern cooking methods and evolving palate influencing. All for the better though as the popularity of the dish (and Okinawan cuisine in general) have spread to all over Japan.

The Nakami Soba with offal (chitlin) toppings comes with a side of fresh grated ginger.

Long stewed and well rendered of fat, its taste is earthy but clean and a meaty yet tender textural delight. What little offal flavor exists is helped by the addition of grated ginger. Other toppings included were a knot of stewed kombu and your standard shredded kinshi tamago and sprinkle of finely minced negi green onions. This also hit the spot though I know a portion of childhood nostalgia plays a large role here. :)


K and S said...

ooh thanks for sharing this, I've never heard of the tofu version, want to try this!

KirkK said...

Oh man, that's some great looking stuff Dennis!

Dennis K. said...

Hi Kat, the Yushi Tofu bowl was my first though I've since had a couple more elsewhere while there. I think the key was how fresh the tofu was.

Hi Kirk, the Nakami Soba was great. All were under 5-bucks too which I forgot to mention.