17 January 2014

Summer in Tokyo ~ Cold Noodle Fest

We've got a spare couple of days in Tokyo at the start and end of our Sapporo trip, our obsession is Tokyo's summer tradition of eating cold noodles.

It's close to 8.00am, we've just landed at Narita Airport and have a few hours to kill. The first thing on our mind - noodles. We catch a train over to Narita Town and get blown away by the heat and humidity of Japan in summer. Narita Town is a hoot when it's busy, but at 10am on a weekday in extreme heat after a sleepless overnight flight, it's kinda drab.

So we scurry into the first air conditioned looking place we can find. Train stations are a guaranteed spot to find somewhere good to eat in Japan. This place is a little run down looking, run by two gossipy ladies who keep the noodles coming out as passenger quickly pass in and out.

For breakfast, cold soba with prawn tempura, shavings of bonito and lashings of negi.

Cold soba noodles with thin slices of okra, tiny seasonal mushrooms and grated daikon.

Back in Tokyo after our trip north to Sapporo, we head off to the South exit of Shinjuku station with great anticipation. We ate noodles at the same stall for a week on a previous trip, Shawn is absolutely obsessed with the place and can't wait to try them again.

But it was gone, replaced by a shiny new place. After shedding some tears for the loss of our favourite train station noodle stand, we decide to try out the replacement. It's cleaner and spacious but it doesn't have the same charm, or the old guy making soba.

The noodles are still amazingly cheap. We hit a button that looks good. The blue buttons are for cold noodles, dang they make it easy to order what you want without fuss.

Cold soba with chicken, chilli and a citrus flavour, possibly yuzu. 450 yen. Love that citrus hit.

Cold soba with a bright green selection of goodies, okra, steamed veg and a mysterious green slime.

We headed out to Nakano after being inspired to go there after reading Pretty Good Number One, one of our favourites books about Tokyo, and quickly headed to the Sun Arcade to get out of the humidity. From Shinjuku station it was a quick ride, only about 150 yen.

Walking through the mall we decide to have a second noodle breakfast.

One of the joys of being a traveller is being able to get out later after rush hour has ended and sit in cafes and restaurants that are quieter and have noodles with old folk who venture out once the madness has passed. It feels gentler, less hurried and a real slow travellers pace.

Selection of tempura and fried goodness to add to your noodles.

Cold ramen with pork, seaweed and vegetables, 420yen.

Cold soba with mountain vegetables, 400 yen. Look at this wonder of ingredients, tiny little fern fronds, bits of sticks and slices and seaweed and ginger toppings.

Beautiful strands of soba noodles.

Walking around in the Tokyo underground there are far more places to try than we have time for. We haven't tried a lot of udon while we have been in town so we decide to share a quick bowl.

What really gets us in is the fresh udon manufacturing taking place in the front window. One of the big (very big) differences between noodles in Japan than in Sydney is the abundance of fresh hand made noodles over frozen. It makes such a huge difference to the texture and flavour.

Fresh udon noodles awaiting their destiny.

Lots of other potential additions to your noodles.

Simple systems make for excellent results. Cook noodles, cool noodles, serve noodles.

Add tempura sprinkles and negi toppings to noodles.

The owner fusses all over us, helping order and toppings etc. After such gracious service we spend a measly 330 yen. Sorry boss.

Further along we walk through Ramen Street. It's late in the afternoon but there are still queues.

We find this place has no queue so in we go quick smart.

The board out the front is singing our song - cold noodles, oh yeah.

Ikea decor. Eaters sit around a big U shaped table, servers work within.

Tsukumen, slightly warm noodles with a dipping sauce with hunks of cooked pork hidden inside. 850 yen.

Our noodles be dunketh.

Cold ramen with yuzu, rare pork, and finely shredded cucumber. Incredible fruity flavours, 900 yen.

Tough mushrooms.

Around the backstreets of Shinjuku are a number of small places that cater for the endless amounts of workers who file through.

It's getting close to the end of the morning set time and we make it in just as the banners are changing over.

More choices.

So much more to eat than just noodles.

Cold udon with sesame chicken, 380 yen. Such a delicately balanced dish come from a regular old noodle bar.

Cold udon with shredded beef and caramelised onion. Sensational. What a great way to start your morning. 380 yen.

More lunch specials.

Usually Memory Lane (aka Piss Alley) is full to the gills of people full to the gills, but mornings are quiete. Two men run this little stand in the middle of the alley, and it's open in the morning for breakfast. It's a quick cook business, soba is boiled, tempura fried, eggs lightly boiled, negi pre chopped.

There's a deftness in the way the noodle masters heat the noodles just so, crack the eggs into the bowl, and beat the batter for fresh tempura. It's a little co-ordinated dance in such a small space.

Mr Shawn's all time favourite breakfast, a simple bowl of soba noodles in broth, morning carbs and rehydration, egg optional.

Fresh out of the oil crisp tempura to crunch on with your noodles.

Beautiful plate of cold soba noodles, ready for dipping. So good we ordered another one.

Our last hit of cold noodles was found in Ueno. The streets around the train line are an endless source of small places for yakitori, beers and noodles.

The winking sign invites us in.

A resto for the regular Joe.

This is the dish that lured us in - the purdiest cold ramen this side of Shinjuku,

Beautiful green noodles. All this from a regular old diner style joint.

Gyoza - always more exciting in theory than flavour.

Ueno is a great place to end a trip to Tokyo, and to sit and start planning the next one.

We love Japan.


  1. incredible post, will be using this as a guide when i finally visit japan this year!

  2. UDON! I. CANNOT. WAIT! This post has got me very hungry for all the noodles in Tokyo.

  3. This makes me wanna eat my laptop monitor. Cold noodles have never appealed to me in theory before, but these examples look incredible. That "Cold soba with mountain vegetables" has my name all over it.

    Any idea if cold noodles are available in Sydney at all?

  4. Ate a stack of zarusoba when I was in Japan during summer. Love how bouncy their noodles are, and look the look of those seasonal mushrooms!

  5. This post is so fantastic. I've eaten that same hyashi chuka for breakfast at that same noodle place in Nakano Sun Mall!

    1. Well, you were the inspiration for the Nakano adventure so glad we found one of your favourites.

  6. The noodle bar in shinjuku station as pictured was the one we ended up going to when we were in Japan - we looked in vain for the noodle bar on the south exit and couldn't find it anywhere, and now I know why!

    Another wonderful post about Japan, I am itching to go back!

    1. We walked around for a while to make sure it was the right one, so upset it was gone. Even though we have just been we want to go back again too.

  7. Nit: What you describe as "grated daikon" in the 2nd bowl of noodles is in fact grated mountain yam (yamaimo), aka tororo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_yam#Uses


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).