Before I came to Okinawa I’d looked up this place as they’re meant to be pretty famous for their Okinawa soba. But I’d completely forgotten about it. We were driving back from Sesoko Island to Naha and, on a whim, I turned off the Route 58 bypass onto a little road heading down to the sea, to the old Route 58, thinking it’d be more scenic, and right there as we rounded the corner to a view of sparkling azure waters was a generic squareish building with big lettering on the front: なかむらそば. I didn’t even remember the name of the place but something about the façade looked familiar so I swung the Vitz* around. This was the place, exactly where I wanted to be on my last day in Okinawa, last chance for Okinawa soba.
You order at a ticket vending machine (hadn’t seen one of those since Tokyo!) and there was a choice between a few different kinds of soba: regular Okinawa soba, with sliced, stewed pork, so-ki soba with slow-cooked ribs, Nakamura Soba’s specialty, a soba topped with bite-sized pieces of pork, chilled Okinawa soba. But I saw a sign recommending the aasa soba, made with a kind of light green seaweed that’s common around these parts. So I put in my coins, got my ticket, a few minutes later I was sitting at a window overlooking the East China Sea with a steaming bowl of noodles.
Floating on top of the soup was a thick layer of what sort of looks like algae but, I can assure you, tasted just fine: fresh and slippery and a little bit briny. Aasa is a type of seaweed I hadn’t heard of before coming to Okinawa but it featured heavily in a lot of the food we ate there, in salads and miso soups and sauces. Texturally, it’s not substantial – it’s almost ethereal, almost disappearing into each mouthful – and taste-wise, too, it doesn’t have a huge presence. But it adds a little something, a little freshness that goes really well with stronger flavours. Plus it’s really good for you. So, there’s my long explanation of aasa.
The noodles themselves were jikasei, or made in-house, and for this particular dish only, they make a special soba with aasa kneaded into the dough. The noodles were pale green and flat, a perfect texture, a normal flavour with just a little hint of weediness.
The pork was really excellent: falling-apart tender, slightly sweet, a little bit fatty, a little bit juicy. Next time I think I would add on extra pieces. Very good.
The soup had a clean, assari flavour, a little salty and a little mellow all at once. I added a splash of the bottled kooreeguusu (chilli vinegar) at the table and it added a little sharp acidity and just a tiny bit of heat that offset the sweeter tones. It was meant to be.
Now I’m off to Kyushu where there is no more Okinawa soba (but there will be plenty of ramen!!). Pretty happy I came across this one last bowl before i left. It was a good one.
Sayonara, soba. Until next time, Okinawa. Farewell, you beautiful place.
*our trusty rental car. It was my first time driving in Japan. I didn’t crash once (though there were a few near misses between Vitz and some concrete walls when I got stuck in the narrowest of streets in a little village at the tip of Okinawa)!