Ukiya Soba — Natto-tamago Soba in Ponto-cho (有喜屋、先斗町)
summary: Ukiya is second to none for soba. Soba is the famed buckwheat noodle of Japan. Ukiya’s soba is handmade (手打ち, teuchi) every morning. Ukiya’s famous dish is the very unique Ukiten Soba.
Ukiya has 9 restaurants, 7 of which are in Kyoto. I visited the Ukiya in Ponto-cho, near Sanjo Bridge, next to the Kaburenjo Theater. Takaraya Ramen (reviewed on kyotofoodie recently) is directly across the narrow Ponto-cho street from Ukiya. Here we review a dish that also includes raw egg (we reviewed Tamago kake gohan at Takaraya).
Ukiya has a famed dish that is completely unique in Kyoto, and all of Japan for that matter. That is the Ukiten Soba. The ‘ten’ in Ukiten is tempura. It is common for noodle and rice dishes to be served with tempura on top. Tempura soba, udon, donburi, can be found on most any lunch menu in Japan.
Ukiya’s rendition is completely unique because it features whipped raw egg (生卵, namatamago) and natto (納豆)! Natto, again is fermented soybeans, not well liked by all Japanese. Natto is commonly eaten at home, often with breakfast. Natto is more well liked in the Kanto region (Tokyo) than here in the Kansai region.
Ukiten Soba is offered either hot of cold. Cold goes great with summer and hot with winter.
The tempura is a shrimp, a piece of nori (dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried) and a sprinkling of tenkasu (天かす), tenkasu is droplets of tempura batter that has been deep-fried, tenkasu is often added to soba and udon dishes. This is garnished with strips of nori and a lightly grilled shishito (sweet green pepper) and chopped scallions.
This is all atop a layer of rich, creamy whipped raw egg. This is what you can see, under this is Ukiya’s famous handmade soba and natto. And of couse, tsuyu (つゆ), the ‘soup’.
These two ingredients, whipped egg or natto are by no means common with soba dishes. I have taken many Japanese friends and visitors to Ukiya, people from various regions of Japan. Everyone was amazed with the concoction, and even people that don’t normally eat natto all loved it.
Ukiya offered both shichimi and sansho to sprinkle on. The staff recommends shichimi, but I prefer sansho.
Again, about namatamago, I have eaten raw or undercooked egg in Japan for years, I have eaten Ukiten Soba countless times and I haven’t had any trouble. I think you have to take your own physical constitution into consideration, especially if you are traveling, but do consider this dish. Also, you may have tried natto and been turned off by its smell or texture, neither of which are pronounced in Ukiten Soba.
Ukiya has numerous other dishes, some of them quite extravagant for a soba shop, but I have never tried any other these! To me, Ukiten Soba is THAT good! For years I have only ordered this dish.
Ukiya is one of my all time favorite restaurants in Kyoto. I highly, highly recommend it!
By the way, Kyoto is not really a ‘noodle town’, Shikoku is famous for udon and the mountainous and northern regions of Japan are famous for soba. However, Kyoto is the king, or shall we say, the emperor of dashi (soup stock) and tsuyu (soup) and various kinds of sauces and dippings in Japan. The reasons being that the water itself is exceptional, exceptionally soft, which lends itself to soups and Japanese tea. And most importantly, Kyoto was ‘his highness the emperor’s kitchen’ (天皇陛下の台所) for more than a thousand years and he liked his cuisine refined!
Ukiten Soba (有喜天そば)
notice the light sprinkling of shichimi (seven spice chili powder)
soba and natto
just natto beans left
You can drink the tsuyu, but it is currently not recommended for health reasons as it has a lot of salt.
Yukiya in Ponto-cho, the building on the right is the Kaburenjo Theater (traditional dance).
Above the noren, the shop curtain, there are two talisman-type objects, these are to ward off misfortune. Such items are purchased at shrines all over Japan. These are probably from the Gion Festival (祇園祭り, Gion Matsuri), each float (鉾, hoko) offers their own talisman. The large window on the right is where the head chef makes soba every morning.
Making Teuchi Soba
Here the chef is cutting the soba from a single sheet of folded dough.
The large red and black lacquer bowl is used for mixing and kneading the dough. On the wall, behind the chef are wooden pins used for rolling out the dough to about a thickness of 2 millimeters.
The photograph on the upper left shows Ukiya’s soba fields in Hanase, a small and very picturesque village in the mountains to the north of Kyoto.
critique: For me Ukiya doesn’t have much to improve. The soba is truly second to none. The Ponto-cho location only seats a few people on the ground floor. The basement, though recently renovated is a bit dungeon-like, I try to avoid it. You can ask to be seated on the second floor if the ground floor is full. Several of the other locations are quite nice. The Ukiya inside The Museum of Kyoto (at Takakura Sanjo) offers a better interior and atmosphere.
English: English menu, no English website, the staff is not bad.
Ukiya website (The website is all in Japanese, but there are lots of photos, so you still can get the idea.)