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The never ending bowl of noodles in Japan

By Adrian Tay
January 20, 2016

Photos: AsiaOne

When I was young, I had this story book about a 'Magic Porridge Pot', which would magically keep cooking porridge until it was told to stop.

During my recent trip to Japan, I was reminded of this childhood story when I dined at Azumaya Soba Restaurant in Morioka-city, Iwate Prefecture.

There I partook in the 'mealtime entertainment' of eating Wanko Soba.

Wanko Soba is a style of Japanese Soba noodles originating from Iwate, and consists of a small serving of Soba noodles in a small bowl.

The interesting part was that during the meal, my bowl would be 'magically' and continuously topped-up by the waitress serving our table.

Before I got started on lunch, I was duly informed that 50 bowls was the average number a male customer should be able to consume during one seating, and then it began.

I had an assortment of side dishes like chicken and mushrooms with grated radish and an empty bowl to start off with.

Once we donned our aprons, our waitress appeared with a tray full of bowls, each with a mouthful portion of Soba.

To get my bowl filled all I had to do was raise my empty bowl towards her and she would then empty a bowl's worth into it. She would then proceed to stack the empty bowls on our table, piling them high as we went along.

As we finished our mouthfuls of Soba, our waitress would drop small servings of noodles into our bowl, and this would go on until we said stop and put the lid on our bowl.

The Soba was rather mild tasting, so the side dishes and sauces provided a bit more flavour to it. Accordingly to my Japanese colleague in AsiaOne, Soba is healthy and believed to have an anti-aging effect.

Having my bowl continuously filled was a rather novel experience and I quite enjoyed it, but by bowl number 30 I was beginning to feel quite full.

In contrast, the two gentlemen in the next table had already crossed the 100 bowl mark, and were just taking a short pause before continuing.I watched in amazement as they leaned back, thumped their stomachs and carried on, adding on to the stacks of empty bowls on their table. My Japanese translator managed to finish over 50 bowls, while I struggled past bowl number 40.

When I gulped down my 48th bowl of the buckwheat noodle, I decided that I had had enough.

To signal my 'defeat' I had to put the lid on my bowl to indicate that I was done.

For my efforts, I received a little wooden tablet with the number 48 written on it to indicate I had taken the challenge and managed 48 bowls. After this lunch time 'challenge', dinner that day was to be a rather light affair.

*The writer's trip was made possible by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Photos: AsiaOne

Originally published on Asia One on Apr. 22nd, 2015.

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