Westerners who have eaten at one of the many noodle eateries throughout Japan will no doubt be familiar with the local custom of noisy slurping. I personally love this little gem of cultural difference, it’s always fascinating to see a custom that in one country is perfectly normal and acceptable and in another is borderline obscene. Anyway whether or not you are particularly bothered by noisy noodle slurping, you will no doubt find yourself hankering after some Soba, Udon or Ramen noodles at some point and so I’d like to bring your cheapo attention to a reliable source of soupy noodle delight.
While train stations aren’t exactly the most peaceful and relaxing environment, they are a fairly reliable source of reasonably good and of course cheap Soba, Udon and Ramen outlets, as well as other inner-station eateries. You’re probably not going to find yourself saying to your friends, “Hey lets have dinner tonight at that stading soba place at the JR station in Ikebukuro”, but you will invariably find yourself passing through train stations on a regular basis, so it’s worth a look in for sure.
Prices range from the ridiculously cheap, like Donbei in Shibuya station at 200yen (which admittedly is actually pot noodle) to cheap, where you’ll struggle to pay more than 500yen for a more old school soba/udon eatery as pictured above.
Whilst Soba, Udon and Ramen eateries are ubiquitous throughout Tokyo and Japan, the train station have got to be one of the reliably cheapest options. It’s worth noting that some (non train station) Soba eateries can be somewhat classy and while still relatively cheap for a quality dining experience (up to 2000yen) are beyond the everyday eating cheapo budget.
One draw back for non Japanese cheapo is that these delightful eateries may not have an english menu, so here’s a few common Soba and Udon dishes:
Kitsune きつね (“fox soba”): Topped with fried Soba
Tsukimi つきみ or 月見 (“moon-viewing soba”): Topped with raw egg
Sansai さんさい or 山菜 (“mountain vegetables soba”): Topped with or wild vegetables such as warabi, zenmai and takenoko
Tenpura てんぷら or 天ぷら: Topped with tempura, usually one or two prawns
Tororo とろろ: Topped with tororo, the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a mucilaginous texture)
The wikipedia Soba article has a more exhaustive list.
At Soba/Udon eateries the dishes are usually all available as either Soba or Udon.
Vegetarian note – Soba/Udon broth is usually fish based and Ramen usually pork based.