I had dinner on my own at a little soba and udon noodle place in Nakano tonight. It was a self service place where you buy your dish in an automat before being served over the counter. Here’s how it worked:
1. I looked in the window display outside the shop to find the dish I wanted. I wanted number 13, but couldn’t find it on the machine so I guess they were out of it. So I chose number 11 instead. It’s always hard when you don’t eat meat to understand what dishes that look like this really contain (that’s why I wanted number 13), and I didn’t understand the middle kanji. So I asked and they said it didn’t contain meat. Is it vegetables? I asked. Yes, and some squid.
2: I paid in the automat. It only cost 350 yen = 2,64 euro = 22,78 crowns. Even with a stronger yen this is very cheap! I got a ticket which I handed to the chefs behind the counter. They asked me if I wanted soba or udon and I chose soba. They also asked me if I wanted that green thing (seaweed?), and of course I wanted that. I was also asked if I wanted a spoon, and I said no because I thought I got special treatment as a foreigner who supposedly couldn’t eat soba with chopsticks, but actually the old Japanese man next to me had a spoon.
3. I got the most delicious soba noodles. Water was inclusive. Regarding the name of the dish, in かき揚天 I think the last kanji, 天 = heaven, in this case means topping, since almost all dishes ended with that. The かき揚 translates as “fried oyster” by Google, but there sure was no oyster in there. Only 揚 seems to mean “fried”, and doesn’t かき mean “sprinkle” (as in “bukkake”, which is also a Japanese dish)? That would make sense since my topping was a bunch of grated (sprinkled) things that had been fried together.
I tried to slurp a bit the Japanese way, as illustrated in this scene from the beautiful movie Tanpopo:
What’s the point with these automat restaurants (they are very common)? I can see at least two: To speed up ordering (the automat is very reliable and gives you change back), and to avoid for the kitchen staff to handle money, for hygienic reasons.