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Niigata noodle restaurant hoping to preserve kosoba heritage

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Kosoba-tei’s zarusoba cold noodles served with dipping sauce

By Haruki Hayashida / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMYOKO, Niigata — A family from Myoko, Niigata Prefecture, opened a soba noodle restaurant in 2001 to help preserve a local buckwheat variety that is cultivated only at the foot of Mt. Myoko.

Kosoba-tei is located along a road near the center of Myoko. On weekends, soba lovers from across the nation flock to the restaurant to enjoy the rare flavor of noodles made from kosoba buckwheat.

A single grain of kosoba is about one-third the size of standard varieties of buckwheat. The “ko” in kosoba is Japanese for “small.”

The buckwheat variety is cultivated in soils enriched by nutrients from fallen leaves. Noodles made with kosoba are popular for their fuller flavor, sweetness and chewy texture.

In the past, rice farmers in the area used to grow kosoba as a fallback in the event of a poor harvest of their main crops.

The grains were not sold because of the crop’s low yield. The variety was at risk of disappearing as the number of farmers cultivating kosoba decreased about 20 years ago.

Isao Ichimura, 67, a former local government official of Arai (presently Myoko) in charge of community development, said: “We need a place where we can offer good things if we want to preserve them.”

After consulting with his family about the future of kosoba, his wife Sachiko, 66, set about opening Kosoba-tei.

The restaurant gained exposure for making soba with the rare buckwheat variety after it was featured in magazines.

After expanding cultivation by using abandoned farmland, the restaurant established an association to promote kosoba together with local farmers, noodle makers and inn operators.

The annual harvest has increased from less than one ton to about five tons since local agricultural cooperative JA Echigo-Joetsu began cooperating with crop cultivation four years ago.

Diners can enjoy the natural flavor of kosoba by ordering the restaurant’s signature dish, zarusoba cold noodles served with dipping sauce (¥800).

The handmade noodles are made with soba flour milled at the restaurant with a traditional millstone and mixed with the fibers of a local grass variety, giving the noodles a distinctively smooth texture.

Some diners find the full-flavored noodles so appealing that they eat them without the dipping sauce.

Shinya Ichimura, 38, the second-generation owner of the restaurant, said: “I want [kosoba] to become so popular that people will say, ‘I want to eat kosoba noodles whenever I visit Myoko.’”

Kosoba-tei

Open: From 11:30 a.m. until the day’s noodles sell out

Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays

Address: 681-1 Hidanomori, Myoko, Niigata Prefecture

Phone: (0255) 72-8628

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