The stretch from Sano city to Ota city is commonly known as the “noodle district”. Each of these cities are renowned for their noodles – Sano for Sano Ramen, Ashikaga for Soba (buckwheat noodles), Tatebayashi for Udon, Kiryu for Himokawa Udon, and Ota for Yakisoba (stir-fried noodles).
You definitely have to try the local soba when you’re in town!
The soba served here is strong in flavor and has a chewy texture due to a higher percentage of buckwheat flour used in the process. In addition to soba, they have plenty of side dishes for you to choose from as well, and has a delicious houtou-udon on their menu too!
Ku-ichi Tachibana (九一そば 第一立花)
Set menus are around 1000jpy, and are very filling due to the generous portions of soba and rice. The flavor of its soba is more towards the refreshing and gentler side, making it a hit with locals during the warm spring and hot summer.
Located along the stairs towards Orihime shrine, this shop prides itself as a soba specialty shop by serving an assortment of soba according to the seasons. The flavors are not added into the soup or as toppings, but rather embedded directly into the soba noodles during the kneading process. There aren’t many side dishes available on the menu, as most customers come here just to savor soba in its full glory. They are only open in the daytime, and closes once everything is sold out (usually around 2pm).
Now this is a place where you do need to bribe someone to drive you to – it’s located really far from the city center, deep across several valleys and mountains.. (no I’m really not exaggerating about this)
But their soba noodles are definitely worth the trip – refreshing yet rich in flavor! They have sharing platters for the soba noodles as well – perfect for a group, or if you’re really hungry.
Side dishes served here are seasonal, and vegetables used are usually home-grown in their backyard.
Most yakisoba (stir-fried noodles), which are often a staple during festivals, usally come with meat or seafood, together with cabbages and the occasional egg as a topping.
In Ashikaga’s version, however, yakisoba is usually fried only with cabbages, but a special ingredient is added – potatoes!
First off, please allow me to assure you that there is no mistake with the map above – this yakisoba stall is actually a foodtruck, so it is not properly reflected in Google maps. The owner goes to the same spot every day (except on his rest days) around 11am to 3pm. His yakisoba is made with a spicy-sweet sauce, giving the flavor a zesty punch which goes very well with the potatoes in it. The small pack goes for 350jpy, and the large pack goes for 450jpy. There are benches in the nearby park if you feel the need to feast on this delectable plate of goodness immediately.
*Note: They also do sell Ashikaga Siew Mai (more information on it in the next section)
The yakisoba here has a slightly milder flavor as compared to Tomiya, but its noodles has a nice chewy texture to it. If your carnivorous instincts are uncontrollable, meat can be added as a topping as well. In addition, they serve the oh-so-delicious imo-furai (deep-fried breaded potatoes) too! Definitely try them out and worry about your carbohydrates intake another day!
The yakisoba and imo-furai here can be ordered to-go as well.
Ashikaga Siew Mai
Siew Mai (Siu Mai/ Shu Mai/Shao Mai) is a Chinese delicacy often found served in dim sum. They are steamed dumplings, and usually come with pork fillings, or shrimp fillings, or pork and shrimp fillings.
However, Ashikaga’s version has replaced the meat totally with onions, turning it into a vegetarian-friendly (and wallet-friendly) option, yet maintaining a similar texture to the original dish. Instead of soy sauce, this is often eaten in Ashikaga with a spicy-sweet sauce, with a pinch of Japanese mustard to give an extra kick in its flavor.
Benkyou-tei (勉強亭) is a teishoku restaurant, where a variety of set meals are served. While ala carte options are also available, the set meals give a better value as they come complete with salad, rice, and soup. And of course, you can get a mouth-watering plate of Ashikaga Siew Mai in this place too! Frozen ones can also be purchased for those who want to devour them freshly cooked in the comfort of their own nests.