Soba-dokoro Yamaka is a small restaurant set on a high bank of the Igarashi River. Opening in 2016, it actually was a reopening five years after the previous restaurant was washed away by severe flooding that struck Niigata and Fukushima prefectures in 2011. Nakayama-san uses very carefully selected ingredients including locally produced buckwheat flour and Shitada water, one reason why it is so popular. In fact, it was listed in the Michelin Guide for Niigata 2020. “My hope is to promote Shitada beginning with food,” Nakayama-san says.
Native of Sanjo City, Niigata. Succeeded his father, who opened the first restaurant in 1996; opened his current location, Soba-dokoro Yamaka, in 2016. His menus feature locally caught fish as well as local vegetables and wild plants, showing his passion for using locally produced ingredients for local consumption.
“With the cool climate and abundant clear water, Shitada provides almost the ideal environment for growing the buckwheat used for soba noodles,” Nakayama-san explains. “My father’s parents lived in Shitada, so I often visited here from the time I was a small child. I can remember fishing in the river, and chasing insects in the mountains. It wasn’t until I later moved to Tokyo that I realized that the food and drink I enjoyed every day here was something special. I was lucky, in that I learned the value of what previously I just took for granted. Maybe it’s this understanding that has driven my commitment to products from Shitada.”
“We want to provide our customers with delicious soba,” Nakayama-san continues, “so we have developed three promises: freshly ground, freshly cut, freshly boiled. There’s a limit to how much soba we can actually serve each day, of course, so we want to make the best use of top ingredients and always stick to these commitments. That will make sure we serve delicious food. Our buckwheat flour is Toyomusume, from Shitada, while the water we use is from a well on our property which draws from the Igarashi River system.”
“Throughout the seasons, we prepare the best ingredients of the season along with our soba: wild plants in spring, river fish in summer, mushrooms in autumn, and soba made from freshly-harvested buckwheat in winter. It’s not just produce we purchase here in Shitada, because we also use plants I gathered or fish that I caught myself. Shitada is really set right into nature, which allows us the luxury of having these great ingredients for seasonal dishes. Fishing is really a passion for me, in fact, so customers will often ask, ‘Have you got any fish that you caught today?’”
“To me, the most wonderful thing in Shitada is to go out in nature and listen to the birds singing, and the gentle rushing sound of the river. In the early summer when the rice paddies are full of water, they reflect the scenery around them like a mirror—that is beautiful! So, please feel free to talk with me: I’ll tell you about more than just about soba and good food, but tell you about some great non-tourist spots around Mt. Awagatake and Yagigahana.”