A Cook Uses His Noodle
Once the owner of a respected soba restaurant, Mr. Chigo now takes calls from people who want to come to his house for lunch. In his home, on one of the tortuous roads in the mountains of Fukui Prefecture, Japan, he has set up three tables in a room connected to his garage, where scrolls printed with haikus about soba line the walls. In one corner of the room, a book lays open, its pages half-filled with customers’ written ruminations on the noodle.
To eat here, you must reserve at least a day in advance, not because of buzz, but because Chigo needs time to make your meal. He must mill flour from buckwheat that grows in a small plot across the street, yank daikon radish from the ground beside his gravel driveway, and amble up the road to dig up wasabi root.
For the main part of the meal, Chigo serves Echizen oroshi soba, the style of the buckwheat noodle favored in Fukui Prefecture. His noodles are slick, irregular lengths, darker and more intensely flavored than most soba. When he emerges from his kitchen bearing bowls of soba on small lacquer trays, he directs you to swoosh the noodles with chopsticks through a cool mixture of smoky dashi stock and sweet grated daikon radish. Dainty cups of soba-yu, the nutritious water in which your soba was boiled, come alongside for you to drink like tea.
The meal ends with savory sobagaki, a word that usually means soba dumplings. Here, however, it refers to soba dough flattened into a pancake and cooked over high heat until the outside is crisp and blistered and the inside dense and soft. Sliced into strips, the unusual snack is to be dipped in soy sauce mixed with freshly grated wasabi, which is more sweet than scorching.
The meal is priceless, but last I heard, Mr. Chigo was charging about 300 yen per person — less than three bucks.