Sunday, November 23, 2014

Good Finds - Maruyasu Soba

It was totally by accident that we found this place. We were driving south on highway 329, on the way down to Naha. Ryukyu Mike was riding shotgun and noticed this lone forsaken looking tree in a small hollow along the way. What really caught his attention was a marker or plaque at the tree. He had made it his mission of late to try and document as many of Okinawa's sacred trees that he could and seeing that marker made him think he had just discovered another. Traffic was heavy and moving pretty fast so I couldn't just whip a quick "yooie"and go back so we decided to mark it in our minds and hit it on the way back Later in the day.

Fall is now in full swing here in Okinawa. That doesn't mean brightly colored falling leaves, frosty mornings and college football games the way it might back in the good old U.S.S. of A but it does mean a break from the sweltering summer sun. It also means the people's tastebuds start singing for a steaming bowl of hot Ramen soup. I knew of a place that was on our way back but, unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed. Now traffic was heavy and typical for fall, construction season is in full swing so we still had about a fifteen or twenty minute drive still ahead of us getting back to that tree. Making things worse was the fact that our tummies were starting to growl and I didn't know of a single ramen shop, Okinawa soba ya or shokudo between here and there!

But it seemed the Gods were smiling on us that day as when we finally got to our destination we not only found our tree and the plaque Mike saw but, right next to it was a rather quaint looking Okinawa soba shop. To be honest, I really like a good bowl of hot Okinawa, specifically "Soki" pork rib soba soup more than ramen anyway and finding this place right next to the tree we spotted earlier was a godsend! We pulled over, dug out our cameras and started snapping away at the tree, the plaque and surroundings. Our mission at that moment was simple, shoot the tree, the plaque and whatever we could do as quickly as we could and then grab a bowl of nice hot soba soup.

We had only been there a few moments when one of the fellows from inside the soba house came out and started talking with us. Now when this guy came out of the restaurant to talk to us, Mike was too engaged in what he was doing at the moment to pay any attention to him and as for me, my Japanese language skills still pretty much suck so wanting to be polite, I just nodded my head in agreement and did my best to decipher what the fellow was telling me.

From what I could tell, it seemed that we did stumble on to a local "Holy Place" of sorts. Right next to the soba house is a huge Gajimaru "banyan" tree (different from the one we had noticed earlier) with a small "altar" place where the locals burn incense and pray to the gods to the back side of it. Less than a block off the highway he led me to an old style Okinawa house, very much like the one I live in that he indicated was used for special prayer ceremonies. There was also a small Utaki "holy place" on the knoll above the house and a well that is used for ceremonial washings.

As hungry as we both were, we had planned to eat there anyway so as soon as Mike could pry himself from behind the viewfinder of his camera, we sauntered inside the place to satisfy our tummies! Though the building is a rather non-descript prefab looking structure on the outside, on the inside it's decorated with the typical soba-ya or izakaya style hand-carved wood decor.

It was a bit after the typical lunch rush and the place was rather busy. The staff was more than just friendly and the service was similarly great. We were led to a nice corner table and handed the menu. The waitress politely apologized profusely for not having an "English" menu. We let her know that it we appreciated her concern and not to worry. From the pictures on the menu, we'd be able to figure it out without too much trouble.

This side of the island doesn't get much terrorist tourist activity and isn't too often frequented by many of the American service members and their families who are stationed here. Even if you were a local, if you didn't know this place was already there, you'd probably just drive right by it and never know it was there. In fact, you could probably spend your whole life here and never know this place even existed!

As a result of that, I'm sure that they have to rely mostly on the local clientele and lots of repeat business. Translation, that means the food has to be not only really-really good but, one has to also understand that Okinawa's aren't know for being spendthrifts. This means that the food has to be priced right too.

So now you're probably asking, how was it? I'd say it was pretty damned good! First of all, the meat fell off the bone just the way I like it! The soup and noodles weren't particularly to my personal taste but I do know many folks who love it this way. The portions were large, the price decent and the staff was great. There's plenty of parking as well as lots of seating inside. If I had to rate it, It would probably be four out of five stars! If you're in the neighborhood and looking for a good place to eat some of the local cuisine, here's a map how to find it below....

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