For high-quality soba noodles in quiet, relaxed surroundings, Teuchi Matsunaga Soba is a great choice when you’re in the Harajuku area.
A simple bowl of prawn tempura soba at Matsunaga Soba. - image © Florentyna Leow
Sometimes I crave good soba, but I don’t always want the pomp and circumstance that comes with a highly-rated, more popular soba restaurant. More often than not, I’d rather go to a quiet, local restaurant, and my go-to during workdays is a place called Teuchi Matsunaga Soba. “Teuchi” means “handmade,” and for abbreviation’s sake I’ll refer to it as Matsunaga Soba.
Jingumae 2-chome is a great neighborhood for restaurants and cafes like this. It’s a quiet residential neighborhood that’s also home to a few offices. The neighborhood is more or less equidistant from its surrounding stations - Meijijingumae-Harajuku, Koritsugijido-mae, Gaienmae. As my colleague says, it’s “right in the middle from all of those,” which becomes clear when you look at a map.
The entrance to Matsunaga Soba is understated and easy to miss - look out for this small lantern. - image © Florentyna Leow
To get to this neighborhood from Harajuku, I usually get out at Exit 5 of Meijijingumae-Harajuku on the Chiyoda Line. Cross the street to Tokyo Plaza Omotesando Harajuku (that's the cool building with the fractal mirrors), and turn left. Keep walking. You’ll see a super colorful shop window for “Moshi Moshi Harajuku” at the corner of a small street. Walk down this smaller side street that runs parallel to the main road. You’ll walk by numerous restaurants, clothes shops, and Beams Records. When you emerge, cross the road at the nearest traffic light (note: you’ll see many people jaywalking here when traffic is low), continuing your trajectory. Keep walking in the same direction - you’ll pass a post office on your right. Look out for the small, discrete lantern as pictured above. Down a short flight of stairs is Matsunaga Soba.
It can feel a little cramped when it’s busy, but that’s part of the charm. - image © Florentyna Leow
It is a small restaurant, seating 20 patrons at most. The dim interior and relatively low ceiling gives it a hidden bunker feel. Nevertheless, it feels cozy and welcoming. You’ll want to arrive before noon, and in smaller groups of 2 or by yourself. Most people here are office workers on a lunch break (like me!), though, so you’ll never have to wait too long. They officially close at 2.30pm, but in reality they’ll stop when they’ve run out of noodles, so get here early!
A glass of water? - image © Florentyna Leow
I was seated at the counter on my last visit. I love sitting at the counter - watching steam rising from pots and pans in the kitchen, enjoying the scent of umami-rich broth drifting over. The young waitress placed a glass of cold water in front of me. So far, so good, except that it was most definitely not water. It was extra refreshing and hauntingly familiar, with a nutty profile. The chef noticed my surprised face, and told me it was chilled, diluted buckwheat tea. I love the small surprises here.
On your left as you walk in is a display of katana swords. - image © Florentyna Leow
The chef and the elderly woman who run the place don’t speak English, but they are warm and friendly, so have no fear ordering! There is no English menu, but they have a strictly limited set of options. These are as follows:
・かけそば kakesoba - soba in hot broth JPY800
・とりそば torisoba - soba in hot broth with chicken (from Tokushima) JPY1200
・牡蠣そば kakisoba - soba in hot broth with oyster tempura (between October and February only) JPY1400
・天麩羅そば tempura soba - soba in hot broth with prawn tempura (two prawns) JPY1600
・各大盛り large portion of noodles (add this to any of the above) JPY200
・もりそば morisoba - cold soba with dipping sauce JPY700
・ざるそば zarusoba - cold soba with dipping sauce (and seaweed) JPY800
・おろしそば oroshisoba - cold soba with dipping sauce and grated daikon JPY900
・とろろそば tororosoba - cold soba with dipping sauce and grated mountain yam JPY1000
・天盛りそば tenmorisoba - morisoba with two tempura prawns JPY1500
・天ざるそば tenzarusoba - zarusoba with two tempura prawns JPY1600
・牡蠣天そば kakitensoba - morisoba with oyster tempura JPY1300
・各大盛り large portion of noodles JPY200
They stock kuroshichimi (black seven spice pepper) and ichimi (chili pepper) from Hararyokaku, a spice specialist in Kyoto. An excellent choice of supplier! - image © Florentyna Leow
Basically, at soba restaurants, you either have your noodles in hot broth, or in a chilled heap with a dipping sauce alongside. I usually prefer slurping soba cold, as I find them to have more structural integrity this way. However, on a chilly, drizzly autumn day, I opted for hot tempura soba. Most of the other diners clearly didn’t mind the sudden dip in temperature - many of them were tucking into cold noodles!
Like most soba restaurants these days, the noodles are not made from pure buckwheat flour - at Matsunaga Soba, they’re “ni-hachi,” which means that wheat flour and buckwheat flour have been blended in a 2:8 ratio. Gluten-free folks should take note, and always check that the soba restaurant you want to visit is “juu-wari” or 100% buckwheat.
It doesn’t come with the soup spoon, but they will provide one if you ask. - image © Florentyna Leow
These are not your average chain shop soba noodles, and are priced correspondingly, but it’s worth the slightly higher price point. The buckwheat noodles have a lovely bite, and the broth was beautifully balanced - just the right amount of umami, saltiness and sweetness. The prawn tempura was deep-fried just right, bouncy and sweet and not at all greasy. (I wanted about 3 more prawns.) If you’re having your noodles hot, slurp fast as they can become soggy if left too long in the broth. Don’t forget to add some kuroshichimi (black seven spice powder) or ichimi (chili powder powder) from the condiment jars in front of you for an additional kick. I also asked them for a Chinese-style soup spoon to help with drinking the broth - this is called a “renge” (ran-gay). You can also drink straight from the bowl if you like.
If you do decide to have cold noodles, you’ll dip small heaps of noodles into your dipping sauce, and slurp them straight from the small sauce bowl. At the end of your meal you should be presented with a small kettle or pouring vessel. This contains hot “soba-yu,” or the water used for boiling your soba noodles. You’ll want to pour this cloudy liquid into the remainder of your dipping sauce to dilute it and make your very own soba broth. Add to taste, of course. It’s a nice, warm ending to your meal.
um always said to finish my soup, so I did. - image © Florentyna Leow
Because of the relatively light and healthy nature of soba, unless you opt for a large portion you might find yourself peckish again in around 2 hours. But that makes it a perfect lunch for a day of non-stop eating.
Teuchi Soba Matsunaga
Name in Japanese:
2−19−12, Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo
11:30~14:30 (or until sold out). Closed Sundays and public holidays.
Meijijingumae Station (Chiyoda line)
:: Read customer reviews of Matsunaga Soba on TripAdvisor
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