Tokyo Map
Site Index
Contact
Random
Our Travel Books
Advertising / Press

Sensei of Slurp: Making Soba with a Master

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

We met Akila Inouye at the entrance to Tsukiji Fish Market bright and early on Tuesday morning, and realized right away that we were going to have trouble keeping pace with him. In the market, he darted ahead of us, racing from stand to stand, comparing prices, and buying everything we were going to need later in the kitchen. It would turn out to be a long day, but Akila never once slowed down… and I don’t think we ever caught up.

Soba Sushi Cooking Class

Akila Inouye is a master chef and founder of the Tsukiji Soba Academy, which trains both professionals and determined amateurs in the art of cooking Japan’s famous buckwheat noodles. He invited us to follow him for the day, and watch as he prepared a number of dishes; not just soba, but sushi and onigiri (rice triangles). It was an excellent opportunity we weren’t about to pass up.

After shopping at the fish market, we walked over to the nearby studio where he gives his classes. Jürgen and I took seats as Akila settled down into a task he clearly loves. With every egg cracked, salmon sliced, and rice triangle formed, he became more animated. He prepared everything quickly and efficiently, and always with the perfect utensil. I don’t know if this is a Japanese thing, or an Akila thing, but I’ve never seen a kitchen so crammed with tools and knives and pots and devices, and everything in its right place. The kitchen was small enough so that Akila hardly had to move. He’d shoot his arm up 40° to the right and grab a whisk or a pan, usually without even having to look.

Within no time, he’d whipped up a breakfast of salmon onigiri and miso soup. After eating, we hopped on a train and headed out to Kawagoe, where our education would continue. He had invited us to his home studio which (I wasn’t surprised to discover) looked exactly like the kitchen in Tsukiji: packed to the brim with utensils and perfectly organized. If we owned even a twelfth of Akila’s cooking equipment, our kitchen would be an absolute disaster.

Soba Sushi Cooking Class

Organization is a major part of Akila’s method. Before we began cooking, we sat down at the table with paper and pen, and puzzled out how the day should progress. He listed every ingredient, estimated the time it would take to prepare, how long it had to marinate, and whether it should be done immediately or just before serving, and soon we had a nicely-ordered list of tasks.

I won’t go into detail about each item sliced, diced, rubbed and soaked, because there was a lot going on. It took hours and although we got tired watching, Akila’s energy never flagged. By the late afternoon, he was ready to prepare the soba. He started at the very beginning, with a perfectly-measured blend of flour, into which he mixed a precise amount of water. He had even checked the room’s humidity and consulted a chart before deciding how much to pour in. To make the perfect soba, you have to do things perfectly.

Soon he had crafted a beautiful sphere of dough, which he flattened into a disc using a series of rolling pins. Once the dough had reached exactly 1.5 millimeters in width (which he ensured by carefully measuring it), he folded it three times and began chopping, using a cleaver he had himself designed specifically for the job.

Soba Sushi Cooking Class

Within no time, we had bundles of soba noodles, which were briefly boiled and then served. But our instruction hadn’t ended yet, because almost as important as knowing how to cook soba is knowing how to properly eat it. Akila explained the process: how to mix the dipping sauce, how many noodles to grab at a time, and so on. We were clumsy, of course, but there’s one aspect of soba-eating we revealed ourselves to be naturals at. As we sucked the first noodles loudly into our mouths, he looked up with delight. “Wonderful slurping! I like it!”

We ended the night with a big bowl of sushi, served with crisp tempura. It had been painful watching the live shrimp be torn apart, twitching violently as their legs and heads were methodically removed, but their sacrifice was worth it. We were also treated to shimmering cuts of horse mackerel, colorful cod roe, eel, and tuna atop vinegar rice.

Akila’s Tsukiji Soba Academy has proven to be a major success, and he’s welcomed students from around the world, including the personal chef of Steve Jobs. He’s also been frequently invited to the USA to provide lessons. In short, he’s one of the best, and it was a privilege to spend the day watching him in his element.

Tsukiji Soba Academy – Website

Japanese Cookbooks

Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
Soba Sushi Cooking Class
, , , , , , ,
June 17, 2014 at 11:49 am Comments (2)

Other Sights in Kawagoe

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

We had spent the morning admiring Kawagoe’s Edo-style kura-zukuri buildings and visiting the museums found along its main strip. After a long lunch, we felt rested enough to continue our exploration of the city.

Sights in Kawagoe

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Candy Shop Lane, where we sampled the famous treats of Kawagoe. The candy production based here kept Tokyo’s sweet-tooth satisfied during the lean years after the great 1923 earthquake. There are fewer shops today, but this lane is still filled with people selling traditional sweets like candied yams and red-bean cakes. We found a lollipop sculptor, who crafted an attractive (and delicious) flamingo for us. And by showering us with samples, a wily old woman guilted us into buying a couple bags of salty rock candy.

Sights in Kawagoe

We now made our way to the east, toward the former site of Kawagoe’s castle. Because of its upstream location on the Sumida River, Kawagoe was of great strategic importance to Edo, and the scene of many battles. After falling victim to fire, the castle was mostly demolished in 1870, replaced by public parks and sport fields. You can still visit the Honmaru Goten, which was the castle’s main residence. Today, it holds archaeological artifacts.

Sights in Kawagoe

For a better picture of life in medieval Kawagoe, we visited the nearby City Museum. Meant to resemble a modern kura-zukuri warehouse, this large white building isn’t particularly appealing from the outside, and we almost skipped it. But once inside, the museum does a good job of bringing the history of the city to life, with explanations of how the kura-zukuri were built, along with full-scale replicas.

Sights in Kawagoe

One task remained on our long itinerary in Kawagoe: the Kita-in Temple, to the south of the former palace grounds. Believed to have been founded in 830, the Kita-in was of great importance to the Tokugawa Shogunate. When it was destroyed by fire in 1638, a section of Edo Castle was transferred to Kawagoe to help with the temple’s reconstruction process. This is the only part of Edo Castle which has survived into the present day. It’s now home to a museum, although the exhibits are just a handy pretext for getting to see the interior of this historic building.

Also within the temple’s expansive grounds, we found a courtyard with a collection of 500 statues. Carved from stone a couple hundred years ago, each has a different posture and expression. Additionally, the Kita-in has a shrine for the spirit of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu, a bell tower and a mausoleum which holds the remains of Kawagoe’s former lords, or daimyo.

Locations on our Map: Candy Shop Lane | Honmaru Goten | Kawagoe City Museum | Kita-in Temple

Hotels In Kawagoe

Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
Sights in Kawagoe
, , , , , , , ,
May 28, 2014 at 6:34 am Comments (0)

A Trip to Kawagoe

Add to Flipboard Magazine.

An hour to the northwest of Tokyo, Kawagoe is one of the more popular excursions from the capital. It’s known as “Little Edo” because it retains the distinctive kura-zukuri buildings which once lined the streets of the capital. We spent a day seeing the city’s sights.

Kawagoe

After taking the train to Kawagoe Station, we had to walk for twenty minutes to reach the historic center of town. At first, Kawagoe felt like any other Tokyo neighborhood: big buildings, pachinko halls, cellphone stores, and tons of people. But upon reaching the historic zone, the atmosphere changed dramatically. It might be overdoing things to say that we had been swept into the past, but certainly we were no longer in the modern day.

The kura-zukuri style of construction prominent during the final years of Edo is still evident in Kawagoe, and only in Kawagoe. Heavy warehouses of layered clay and plaster atop a wooden frame, and capped with thick tile roofs, these buildings were designed to withstand the constant fires which so plagued the capital. They’re definitely sturdy; I’m surprised more haven’t survived. We got a good look at how they’re built during a visit to the Museum of Kura-zukuri, found inside one of the kura on the main street of Chuo-dori.

We would enter quite a few kura during our day in Kawagoe. One houses the Kameya Sweets Shop, while another sells goods in a setting straight out of Edo, with the vendor and her wares standing on elevated tatami mats. This is Osawa Family House, which was built in 1792 and is the oldest kura-zukuri remaining in Japan. And then there’s the Yamazaki Art Museum. The exhibits are small, and won’t take much of your time, but the museum is worth visiting just to see the inside of the old warehouse.

Kawagoe

Although these kura-zukuri are easily Kawagoe’s most well-known feature, the city’s most emblematic structure is the old wooden bell tower in the center of town. The three-story Toki-no-kane was originally built in 1644 and is still rung four times a day.

By lunch, we had worked up a mighty appetite, and sat down at Kotobukian, where the specialty is green-tea soba. Each of us were served a wobbling tower of five stacked bowls, each filled with soba noodles and accompanied with a different condiment. This was a lot of food, but the noodles went down surprisingly fast and gave us the energy we’d need during the second half of a long day in Kawagoe…

Locations on our Map: Kawagoe Station | Museum of Kura-zukuri | Yamazaki Art Museum | Toki-no-kane Bell Tower | Kotobukian

Hotels In Kawagoe

Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
Kawagoe
, , , , , , , , ,
May 28, 2014 at 1:24 am Comments (3)
Sensei of Slurp: Making Soba with a Master We met Akila Inouye at the entrance to Tsukiji Fish Market bright and early on Tuesday morning, and realized right away that we were going to have trouble keeping pace with him. In the market, he darted ahead of us, racing from stand to stand, comparing prices, and buying everything we were going to need later in the kitchen. It would turn out to be a long day, but Akila never once slowed down... and I don't think we ever caught up.
For 91 Days