Monday, December 7, 2009

Eating on the Run

On the second level of Shibuya Station in Tokyo, just at the top of the stairs at the south entrance, is a small restaurant called Sasahachi. Most people here would simply call it a noodle shop, and basically, it is a soba, or buckwheat noodle restaurant which caters to people on the go, hungry businessmen with little time for a ‘sit down meal,’ or commuters passing from the Inokashira Line to the Ginza or Yamanote Lines. For twenty years the restaurant has been in its present location, but for more than twenty years, it was in a different spot, about one minute from the present location. Though I asked one of the older employees, I was unable to get an exact year when the shop first opened and the best I could come up with was, “…more than forty years ago. ”

I could be wrong about this, but have a feeling that Sasahachi is not the original name. I say this because the first time I wandered in, ate a bowl of hot noodles with country vegetables and thought, “Mmm, this is not bad at all,” was in 1982, and the shop was in its original location with a curtained doorway, showing the name Futaba. Over the years I have eaten there uncountable times, and I still call it Futaba. As a regular customer I have outlasted all the employees but one, a friendly old gal who always greets me with a smile of welcome.

The restaurant is what any passer-by would call a tachigui shop. The word means ‘eating while standing’ and describes the manner of eating for most customers at Sasahachi. There are a few tables, as well as a short counter for those who prefer to sit, but for most customers sitting down defeats the purpose of eating on the run. Done it lots of times myself, but will choose a table if a seat is available. On my last lunch visit I shared a table with a woman on a break from shopping, a businessman who ate with one hand and spoke on his cell phone with the other, and on my left a well-dressed grandmother who shielded her mouth with one hand while using a toothpick with the other. No doubt I was the most unusual person at that table.

The menu offers more than just noodles, and includes the perennial Japanese favorite, curry & rice, plus other traditional quick meals like bowls of rice topped with egg, pork or tempura, to name but a few. I asked once what the most popular choice is and learned it’s a bowl of buckwheat noodles topped with mixed tempura, called kakiage soba. The mix is most often made up of small shrimp, onion, julienned carrot and something called mitsuba, a variety of Japanese parsley. These ingredients are mixed in batter and quickly fried, producing a very tasty topping for a bowl of noodles in broth.

They’ve never won any prizes for the cooking, but in ‘more than forty years’ of business rarely is there not a line of people going inside, waiting to pay the cashier, getting a ticket and finding a spot to eat. They open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 11:00 p.m., always with a line of hungry customers.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America