Dec 10, 2015

Are Good Food Always Hidden in the Alley in Japan? 玄 Gen Soba in Nara, Japan

Finding hidden treasures in the alley and narrow lanes is always one of the fun things to do in Japan. You'll never know what's behind that door or that curtain until entering the space. It's a little adventure before the feast starts, and that was how I met 玄 (Gen), a reservation only soba restaurant in Nara, Japan.

Gen is not far from Kintetsu Nara station and situated below Nara Park, where the deer roam freely around the area. My plan was to enjoy a true authentic Japanese soba/buckwheat noodles meal then venture to the park. The schedule worked perfectly and I was able to get back to Kyoto before night falls.

The soba joint was slightly off the road and a temple was right on the corner. Holding my phone with Google Maps arrow pointing to the alleyway. Good thing I read kanji/Chinese characters. There it is, the soba place, quietly sitting at the end of the narrow lane -

The gentle breeze lifted the curtain, inviting me to this tranquil space -

And I took a wrong turn, even though the entrance door was right in front of me -

The waitress greeted me as I took off my shoes entering the tatami room. A little towards the left side was the counter and the entrance to the kitchen -

Main dining area on the right -

Garden view on both ends -

Tiny flower arrangement -

Japanese menu, click on the image for an enlarged view -

English menu is also available. Waitresses speak very limited English here -

Harushika junmai ginjo namazake (Japanese sake) -

Helped me ease into the meal. Despite the aromatic sake, the little dish came with it was a pleasant surprise -

These were slightly crunchy buckwheat flavored with miso and other seasonings. Salty but not overwhelming followed by dense miso sweetness, goes really well with sake.

Soba tofu -

Seems like they blended buckwheat into the tofu then reformed the shape again. There was a gentle herbal/woody aroma when tasting the tofu. 

The fresh cheese looking thing on top is called yuba - fresh tofu skin. When making soymilk, yuba is the soft layer gradually forming on the surface. Just like its appearance, yuba is very delicate and carry a light soybean aroma.

Reservation only so that the restaurant can measure how much soba need to be made daily. I think each portion comes with two sets of soba. One simply served with salt, and the other one various depending on customer's preference. 

I've had soba before but nothing came close to Gen. A distinct herbal-like aroma reminiscent to sun dried rice straw. Never know this is how buckwheat tastes like, I was amazed and mesmerized. 

Soba gets stick together easily so are usually arranged in a flat layer fashion. 

Second set, inaka soba - 

Judging by the darker color, this one comes with even stronger buckwheat scent. Grated daikon (radish) on the bottom right. Mix grated daikon with the sauce and dip in soba for extra flavors. Add some wasabi to further brighten up the light stalk-like aroma.

More sauce inside the dark greenish colored jar if needed. 

I thought that was all the highlights from the soba meal. However, the waitress brought over this teapot looking container -

Soba yu was inside the red container, basically soba water. The water used for cooking soba was preserved and served at the end of the meal. The texture is similar to slightly liquefied mashed potato but with gentle buckwheat aroma instead. Mix the soba yu together with some sauce and enjoy it like a Japanese style creamy soup -

The last soup dish completely warmed up my body.

The aroma lingered even minutes after I walked out the restaurant. Simply let this gentle fragrant accompanying my journey towards the next destination.

Truly a hidden gem not yet well known by foreign tourists. 

玄 Gen currently holds one Michelin star status.

玄 Gen
23-2 Fukuchiincho Nara, Nara
Japan Tabelog Info: 玄 Gen

Opening Hours:
Lunch 11:30 a.m. ~ 1:00 p.m.
Dinner 6:00 p.m. ~ 9:00 p.m.
*Please contact the restaurant for updated closing dates

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