MANILA -- “Ramen is so popular in Manila. Why not soba?” quipped Kudo Yoshiaki, business development head of Nadai Fujisoba, where the noodles are indeed the star.
Nadai Fujisoba capitalizes on soba being Tokyo's "soul food. It has 116 branches in Tokyo, including one in every urban train station in the Japanese capital, as well as freestanding and roadside restaurants, which are open 24 hours for those looking for their noodle fix.
But while it doesn't have branches anywhere else in Japan, this Tokyo noodle concept has expanded to Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines, where it recently opened at SM Megamall. Nadai Fujisoba also has branches at Bonifacio High Street, SM Aura, SM Mall of Asia, and SM North Edsa.
Soba is made from buckwheat giving the noodles its brown color, while the thick white udon noodles are made of wheat. There is a 400-year-old tradition of eating soba and udon that dates to the Tokugawa period. Back then, every neighborhood had its own izakaya serving these noodles and this is the tradition that Nadai Fujisoba has carried over to modern times.
The recommended introduction to these noodles is to order the Mori Soba or Mori Udon. This is like going back to basics. Cold noodles are topped with nori accompanied with a dipping sauce of light soy and dashi mixed in with scallions and wasabi.
First-timers are also encouraged to try adding tanuki to their dipping sauce to give it an extra crunch. Eating the noodles cold ensures the noodle’s chewy quality, while enjoying them bare-bones just makes the noodles shine on their own.
If cold dipping sauces are too unfamiliar, try the Tsuke Soba or Tsuke Udon, which are served with hot soups. The Tori Tsuke variant, for example, has a hearty chicken soup as a dipping sauce, making it more filling than the standard entrée.
For those who like their noodles on the al dente side, it is not recommended to pair soba with hot soup as the noodles soak up hot soup very quickly making it soft and mushy rather quickly. Udon tends to be much thicker noodles, which make it great soup noodles retaining its chewiness for long periods. It’s also very good with thicker saucy soups like Japanese curry.
When served in hot soup, udon and soba dishes tend to be healthier than ramen, which is frequently characterized by heavy and rich broth.
The Kake Udon and Soba dishes tend to be served in a light soy-based broth. These can come with a variety of toppings including potato croquettes, vegetable tempura, pork and a variety of meats.
The Ebi-Ten with jumbo prawn tempura, and the Niku Fuji Soba, made with pork, are the current Filipino crowd favorites. The Aka Fuji Soba comes with slices of spicy beef for those who like their soup with a little heat.
Besides udon and soba, Nadai Fujisoba has donburi and tempura entrees. Fans of the Japanese rice topping can fall back on their favorite gyudon, katsudon, or oyakudon, which are available as part of a Teisyoku set with a side of Kake Soba or Udon or Mori Soba or Udon.