My quest to recreate one of the best things I've ever tasted: omusoba

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Behind the gate of this shrine in Kyoto, I ate something delicious.

There was a festival going on at the time. Girls were dressed in traditional yukata, with paper fans sticking out of their belts in the back. People were walking up the steps to the orange shrine, and we followed them. There was a little bit of praying going on, but mostly people were buying food from the dozens of vendors, or playing carnival games (like cork guns and goldfish scooping).

I smelled lots of good things being cooked by the vendors. Something especially mouth-watering was beckoning me to follow it to its source. It was frying noodles. Yakisoba (yaki = fried, soba = noodle). But it was more than that. The woman running the grill was also wrapping the noodles in omelets, squirting a dark reddish brown sauce on top, and sprinkling it with flakes of something. I placed my order (500 yen, I think) and she prepared a giant yakisoba omelet, handing it to me on a paper plate along with a pair of wooden chopsticks. I took it into the tent set up behind the grill and sat down at one of the tables. I already knew it was going to be tasty, but after one bite, I went into a sharklike feeding frenzy. My God it was good. The noodles were salty and peppery, with a bit of sweetness, and the flakes were some kind of dried fish that enhanced the flavor. I didn't bother slowing down to savor it, as my reptile brain had taken over, commanding me to devour the irresistible concoction that had been set before me. Before I had a chance to think of taking a picture of it, it was gone.

Since returning home, my thoughts have often returned to that omelet. I wanted another one. Yes, I know that it is impossible to step into the same river twice, and that the combination of my hunger level, my mental state, the ingredients and preparation that went into making the omelet, and the festival environment on that day could not be replicated. Still, I wanted to se if I could make a reasonable copy here in Los Angeles.

More photos and a recipe after the jump.

It took me just a few minutes to find the name of the dish: omusoba (omelet soba). I saved an omusoba recipe to Evernote and was about to head to Little Tokyo to buy yakisoba noodles, tonkatsu sauce, seaweed flakes, and bonito flakes, but Mister Jalopy told me to try 99 Ranch, a pan-Asian supermarket in Van Nuys instead, as it was closer and cheaper than the Marukai supermarket. So I went there instead. While marveling at the large variety of exotic fruits and vegetables in the produce section, and admiring the many types of live fish swimming in tanks behind the meat counter, I bought the omusoba ingredients (along with a pound of lychees and bunch of other products that looked too interesting to pass up).

Back home, I got busy making omusoba.

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⇑  I chopped up some carrots, ginger, and cabbage (I used regular cabbage because I couldn't find any "Chinese cabbage.")

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⇑  I fried the ginger in canola oil for a little while, then added the cabbage and carrots.

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⇑ While it was frying, I chopped up a pork loin cutlet that was left over from the dinner we had the night before and tossed it in the non-stick made-in-China wok that I bought for $10 at 99 Ranch (I hope it's not too toxic).

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⇑ Next came the yakisoba noodles. The bag came with a foil pouch of yakisoba seasoning, but I didn't use it because it had MSG in the list of ingredients.

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⇑ Instead I used this yakisoba sauce. It, too, probably had MSG in it (under a stealth ingredient name), but it makes me feel better not to know for sure.

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⇑ I added the noodles with a bit more oil, and fried them for a few minutes, then added about a half cup of yakisoba sauce.

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⇑ I made an omelet in a pan, and added a portion of the noodles to it. I overcooked the eggs, but I didn't stop to make a new omelet. I was getting shaky from hunger at this point.

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⇑ Here's what the tonkatsu sauce and bonito flakes look like.

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⇑ And here is my omusoba (with seaweed flakes, bonito flakes, and tonkatsu sauce on top). Even though I didn't have all right ingredients, and the egg was overcooked, it was still delicious.

I had a lot of leftover noodles, and my wife and daughter loved them. Omusoba is going to be a regular part of our diets. I think I'll ask Mark Allen of Machine Project if he'd be willing to host an omusoba festival at the gallery. Would you be interested in coming? let me know in the comments.

Below, some photos of the festival and a sign for a restaurant in a little alley in Kyoto. I wish I could have eaten there, but it wasn't open when I went by.

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