Yaki soba is a humble dish. This concoction of noodles, cabbage, Bull-Dog sauce, and a few thin slices of pork belly is a favorite of vendors at local festivals or of hungry campers spending the afternoon at the river. But in my nearly 30 years of eating in Tokyo, I’ve never encountered a restaurant dedicated solely to yaki soba until I discovered Hanaya in Tawaramachi.
You start to smell the familiar odor of frying noodles as you ascend the steps of exit 3 of Tawaramachi station. Look to the left as you hit the pavement and you’ll most likely see the master in his striped apron literally scraping together a mound of noodles.
For decades he has made the same dish over and over again. No variation. Noodles, sauce, cabbage.
Using two large metal scrapers, he mixes and tosses until the cabbage bits have softened and the noodles are coated with the tangy, slightly sweet sauce. You’ll find no pork belly hiding among the noodles. Adding meat would mean raising the price above ¥350, the rock bottom price for this savory dish.
Hanaya has no pretensions. The Tiffany-blue vinyl tablecloths are thumb-tacked to the tables. Nail heads are visible where the table legs were hammered to the top.
And the paint on the concrete floor has been worn away by decades of customers stopping in for cheap tasty meal or for a taste of their childhood.
All kinds stop in here: a businessman in an expensive suit. A former businessman down on his luck from restructuring. Young couples and old couples looking for nostalgia. Tourists on their way to the kitchenware shopping street in nearby Kappabashi.
The noodles are al dente. The squeeze bottle of tare sauce on the table can add some extra zing if you’re so inclined. If you’re famished, you can order the omori, a larger serving of steaming noodles, for an extra ¥100.
All the chilled water you can drink is free.