Kobe city’s Nagata ward is located close to the harbour in an area where shipbuilding and the rubber industry flourished in the past. Teppanyaki (literally, ‘iron-plate grill’) food culture came from the surrounding small factories and ironworks: menus were cheap and served fast, making them suitable for labourers. Many small teppanyaki stores opened in local houses with their iron plate straight from the ironworks. It seems that Sobameshi (soba noodles cooked with rice) started with factory workers bringing their leftover rice from their bento lunchboxes to these shops to be cooked together with yakisoba noodles. In 1995, the Hanshin earthquake hit devastating large parts of Kobe. Nagata’s sobameshi became known across the nation when the local store Aomori, which first served sobameshi, reopened after several months and was in the news for serving up the delicacy during restoration. Nagata was one of the areas hardest hit by the disaster and sobameshi, which gave strength to the local residents, still remains an indispensable soul food.
Where the grill meets the sauce
So, what is it in sobameshi that’s made it a standard for most menus? It’s quite simply shredded yakisoba noodles and rice cooked on a hot plate together with cabbage, beef tendon and local sauce. Though simple, each store offers something different in flavour. At Aomori, they don’t use oil; the lard and good flavour comes from the beef tendon. They cook with the local Rose Sauce brand, with three types on the table for customers: sweet, strong and special dobe (thick) sauce. Sauce is another important culinary culture in Nagata. Sauce helps hold the rice and noodles together in wonderful agreement as they are cooked on thick steel plates with speed and skill. The indescribable savoury flavour fills your mouth making you want more.
A local atmosphere full of flavour
Nagata is said to have the highest accumulation of okonomiyaki (savoury Japanese pancakes) stores in the country. The locals know each flavour, and go to and from their favourite ones. You’ll see them on their regular visits to the local bathhouse before a sobameshi dinner. Though the scenery has changed over the years, you’ll still find some of the old streets in Nagata. Neighbours are friendly in this downtown area; you’ll find yourself relishing the dining experience with them as you sit at the counter. You won’t need an English menu. Everyone will help you out, and feel free to order anything you see being cooked in front of you.