Soba is a well-known staple of Japanese cuisine. It is usually made from buckwheat noodles that are served in a savory broth, or on a separate tray with a dipping sauce to the side. Soba from Naha City in Okinawa is arguably the best in Japan. The flavor, portion sizes, and prices offered in Okinawa are hard for restaurants in mainland Japan to beat.
Den Soba (田そば) is hands down the best soba shop in Naha, Okinawa. It ranks the highest in terms of quality, prices, and overall satisfaction. Read more to find out why we loved this restaurant so much, and to learn about how to get there.
What makes Okinawa soba so good?
Soba broth can come in a variety of flavors just like ramen. Typically the base consists of shoyu (soy sauce), beef stock, fish stock, or pork stock. Less commonly found bases include chicken stock, or vegetable stock (for all you vegetarians out there). The highlight of Okinawa soba is the deliciously rich and fatty pork from Aguu that are locally raised.
Aguu is the name of the native pig of Okinawa. Its meat is said to be very high in protein and vitamin B1. Many people in western countries shy away from or try to limit their intake of pork due to its high saturated fat content.
The people of Okinawa, on the other hand, are said to eat it almost daily. Tourist and information sites brag about how the people of Okinawa enjoy eating every part of the pig, minus its squeal. Ears, feet, tail, you name it!
Considering the people from Okinawa have the longest lifespan in the world, they may be onto something. There are more than 400 centenarians living in Okinawa alone!
Now, I’m not suggesting that you eat pork every day to try to live longer! But, you should at least be willing to indulge and enjoy the plethora of pork and other traditional dishes that Okinawa has to offer without fearing for your diet.
The shear size (of Okinawa soba) is unbelievable!
That’s what she said, right? My boyfriend was determined to find and try some good soba in Naha on our first full day. We checked out Google Maps and found this small restaurant that was only about a 15-minute walk from where we were staying near Furujima Station. It seemed to have pretty good ratings, and was extremely easy to get to, so we figured why not?
The outside of Den Soba was very green and inviting. I was relieved to see that most of the customers inside were locals when we entered. I took that as a sign that the food must be good, and it wasn’t just another tourist trap.
My boyfriend and I sat at the table that was closest to the door. The only menu was one hanging up behind us on the wall. I was pretty hungry, so I thought I’d go for the “San Mai Niku Soba,” which was the most expensive item they offered. The name translates to “3 slices of meat soba” and it came in a medium and large size.
When I told my boyfriend what I was considering ordering, he briefly gave me the look. You know, the look that says I was probably making a bad decision and should reconsider my options. I almost ordered it anyway just out of pride, but after questioning him about it, I heeded his advice and opted for the “Den Soba Chuu” instead. It was 300 yen cheaper, and came in a medium size.
How much does soba in Okinawa generally cost?
The place that we went to had a very small menu, but the prices were pretty consistent with what we saw at other restaurants across Okinawa during the rest of our trip.
You can get a pretty large bowl of soba from anywhere between 600 yen to 1000 yen (roughly $6-10 USD).
The difference in price has more to do with the toppings than the soba itself. The more meat your soba has, the more expensive it’ll likely be.
However, most adults will probably be able to satiate their hunger even with the smaller bowls. I highly doubt kids will even be able to come close to finishing it, so if you’re planning a family night out, soba might be a bit of a waste.
What does the best soba in Okinawa look like?
My boyfriend’s order arrived first, and we were both a bit stunned! When they said “large” size, they really weren’t kidding! Not only was the thickness of the pork slices exorbitant, but they were hanging off the rim of the bowl!
These weren’t like the thin and crispy slices of American bacon that I was accustomed to. Imagine stacking five normal slices of those together, and that would make up maybe one strip of pork that was served on top of his soba.
Does eating the equivalent of 15 slices of bacon sound appealing to you? If so, then this is definitely the restaurant to go to.
They were so juicy and tender that they fell apart with his chopsticks. The flavor was so deep and rich that it felt sinful for something to taste so good!
My dish was significantly smaller than my boyfriend’s, and the soba noodles were actually visible. It was about the same size you would expect from an 800 yen bowl of ramen in Tokyo. The noodles were extremely thick, and plumped up to about the size of udon when I failed to finish them quickly.
To be honest,
they didn’t taste very much like buckwheat, and were whiter in color.
Note: It turns out Okinawa soba isn’t made from buckwheat at all! Just regular wheat. That would explain the difference in taste and appearance.
The flavor of the pork was very strong, and overpowered whatever natural flavor the noodles may have had.
Two tables down from us was a thin woman who probably weighed less than 50kg, and a young girl who looked like maybe she was in junior high school. I glanced over at them in disbelief when the waitress placed the same monstrous sized bowls of artery-clogging goodness in front of them.
I couldn’t believe both of them had ordered the San Mai Niku Soba, and intended to eat the whole thing. Part of me wanted to stick around just to see if they would be triumphant and successfully finish their bowls. I was silently cheering for them.
After about 30 minutes, the woman (who I assume was the mother) managed to down two pieces of pork, and roughly half of her soba noodles before noticeably slowing down. Her daughter didn’t even come close to that.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see if they finished off their bowls, because my boyfriend was done with his own, and was ready to leave for Shuri Castle. My guess, though, is that they’re probably still there!
How do you get to the Den Soba shop?
Den Soba is right along a main road, so it’ll be hard for you to miss. I don’t think you can make reservations, so I recommend getting there before the lunch rush. Here is its address, as well as a link to its location on Google Maps:
If you’re planning a vacation trip to Okinawa, check out my post on Kayaking Through the Yanbaru Mangrove Forest in Okinawa.