The Omotenashi Spirit of Iwate Hospitality
Soba is a Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour. Compared to other types of noodles, soba is easy on the stomach and high in nutrition, making it a healthy Japanese meal.
Soba is delicious cold or hot and can be eaten a variety of ways. For zaru soba, the soba noodles are served on a bamboo slotted platter (zaru), and dipped into a chilled soup before eating. For kake soba, the soba noodles are served in a big bowl of hot soup. Soba soup is called tsuyu and usually made with bonito stock, soy sauce, and other Japanese condiments.
Iwate Prefecture is famous for wanko soba, a style of eating soba noodles unique to the area. A mouth-sized portion of hot soba noodles are placed in a small bowl (wanko). You slurp up the noodles – a usual way to eat soba in Japan – and once the bowl is emptied, another portion is immediately served, and keeps on being served until you’re full.
This style of eating soba noodles is said to come from the tradition of soba burumai, a way of serving soba noodles to a large group of guests so that everyone can enjoy delicious, freshly-cooked noodles. However, it’s also said to have originated over 400 years ago, when a feudal lord was so taken with the dish, he kept asking for refill after refill.
Whatever the true origin, wanko soba came about from the Iwate omotenashi spirit: a desire to serve guests the best meal possible, and let them eat to their hearts content.
Test Your Wanko Soba Limit
Wanko soba is made with the same ingredients wherever you eat it, but how it is served and what it is served with depends on the region and restaurant.
In Morioka City, wanko soba is a lively and entertaining event, almost like a sport. The server keeps topping up your bowl, cheering and motivating you on with a rhythmic chant: “Hai jan jan! Hai don don!” The meal ends when you’ve reached your limit and put the lid on the bowl.
In Hanamaki City it’s a more refined affair. It’s here that the feudal lord was said to have had his meal. There’s no chanting, but still plenty of refilling.
Around 10 to 15 servings of wanko soba are equal to one bowl of hot kake soba. Wanko soba is usually served with a selection of toppings like chopped green onions, grated daikon radish and dried seaweed, to switch up the flavor.
All-You-Can-Eat Wanko Soba Contest
The cities of Morioka and Hanamaki each have their own annual wanko soba eating contests. People from all over Japan come to Iwate to take part and see who can eat the most bowls in the time allowed.
At the All Japan Wanko Soba Contest in Hanamaki, the winning contestant ate 258 bowls in 5 minutes, setting a new record in 2016. The contests are quite intense, making them as much fun to watch as they are to take part.
Wanko soba is a dish that can be enjoyed with family and with friends. Wanko soba restaurants are visited by people in Japan and from people all over the world. If you visited, how many bowls do you think you could eat?