I've just gotten back from a Japanese farewell tour of sorts - an eating expedition up north. B and I bought the cheap Hokkaido & Higashi Nihon Pass and gradually made our way up to Sapporo. Our first stop was in Morioka, the capital of Iwate prefecture.
After getting settled at our hotel (the New City) we set off in search of some local eats. Misreading the map and walking half an hour away from the city centre landed us at a bright and shiny Saty shopping mall that filled us with (puzzling) nostalgia for the Westfields of home.
B's stomach was motioning towards the Grand Buffet, but I managed to talk him into a soba shop serving the peculiar Moriokan version of reimen (冷麺 lit. "cold noodles"). This unlikely combination of cold noodles in broth with kimchi and seasonal fruit seems to be a riff on Korean cold noodle dishes like Bibim Naengmyon (below), introduced and adapted to local tastes by the city's sizable Korean community.
My soba reimen arrived pleasantly chilled and dotted with kimchi, cucumber, apple, sliced green onion and a peice of char sui.
At first the cool broth with spicy kimchi and sweet crunchy apple was a delightful novelty. The flavors were clean and refreshing and the char sui was excellent, dark and salty, but about half way through the noodles I just ... got tired of eating it. The noodles were so chewy it was like exercise and more than that it just felt as though something was missing. I find kimchi is an excellent foil to meat and other savoury, salty flavours but alone the in-your-face spiciness lacks something.
Unfortunately, a hurried lunch on the run the next day and B's demands for pizza (take-out from Strawberry Fields on Saien Dori, crispy and delicious) didn't leave room for the all-you-can-eat wanko soba or a plate of jaja men. Next time. There was still plenty to be eaten in Aomori and Sapporo.
(One of my favorite Japanese food bloggers, Kat, recently posted a recipe for a meatier version of jaja men for anyone keen to try it out at home.)