Tachigui Soba - Japan's Morning Meal For Those in a Hurry

If you’ve ever caught an early train in Japan, you might have seen commuters packed into tiny restaurants hunched over a bowl of soba noodles on the platform in the morning. These narrow restaurants specialize in a Japanese dish called "tachigui soba." Prepared in lightning quick time and eaten whilst standing up, tachigui soba is a popular morning meal in Japan, especially with commuters before the working day begins. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about tachigui soba.

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What Is Tachigui Soba?

The soba dishes sold in tachigui restaurants are relatively simple meals consisting of boiled buckwheat noodles served in a dark broth typically made of a mixture of fish stock, soy sauce, and cooking sake. Tachigui soba noodle dishes are usually served in a number of different ways, commonly topped with tempura, tofu skin, or a mix of deep-fried vegetables called "kakiage." A portion of diced green onions or a sprinkling of a spice mix called "shichimi" are typically added as garnish. Ready minutes after it has been ordered, tachigui soba is Japan’s very own fast food.

“Tachigui” means "to eat standing up," and this is how the meal is always eaten. Meant to be eaten quickly, tachigui soba restaurants are typically small and narrow, and diners slurp their soba noodles whilst standing before getting on with their day. Depending on the restaurant, the broth may be either hot or cold. Some tachigui soba restaurants even serve the dish with a hot broth during the cold months of the year and change to a cold broth during Japan’s hot summer months.

The History of Tachigui Soba

The concept of standing to eat originated in the Edo period (1603-1867). After a massive fire burnt Edo (old name for Tokyo) to the ground, many food stalls were built to feed the laborers tasked with rebuilding the city. A huge number of these were tachigui-style stalls, designed to encourage a quick turnover whilst saving money on space and manpower. It’s believed that there were over 3,000 tachigui shops operating in Edo during the latter half of the Edo period.

"Ekisoba" (station soba) also has a long history, with soba stalls popping up on train station platforms during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The first ekisoba shop is said to have been opened in Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture. In the early days of steam power, locomotive trains would often need to be replaced between journeys. As this could often take some time to organize, passengers could grab a quick bite to eat from track-side ekisoba stands while they waited.

Why Is Tachigui Soba Such a Popular Morning Dish?

Tachigui soba is a quick, cheap, and healthy meal, making it a popular way to start the day for time-conscious commuters.

At most tachigui soba stalls, the meal will be served to the customer and ready to eat within minutes of the order being placed. This is possible because everything about the process of ordering, cooking, and eating the dish is designed with speed in mind. The noodles are parboiled in advance to speed up the cooking process once an order has been placed. With the broth already prepared, only the noodles and any extra toppings, such as tempura or tofu skin, need to be cooked.

The cost of a basic bowl of tachigui soba is usually around 400 yen. For such a low price, you can get a delicious and nutritious start to the day. Buckwheat noodles have a number of health benefits - they are low in calories and fat, and high in fiber and vitamin B.

Another reason for tachigui soba’s popularity as a morning meal is that most tachigui soba restaurants open much earlier in the morning than many other eateries. Tachigui soba restaurants usually open around seven o’clock in the morning, hours before most other restaurants open their doors.

Tachigui soba restaurants also take advantage of their location, often situated either in or near train stations. It’s also very common to see tachigui soba restaurants on train station platforms in Japan. They are perfectly placed to serve customers who need an incredibly quick meal before getting on with their day.

Why Is Tachigui Soba Eaten Standing Up?

The reason that tachigui soba is eaten standing up is simply so that it can be consumed quickly. Rather than taking a seat to enjoy a relaxing meal, standing while eating effectively speeds up mealtime for those who are short on time and in a hurry.

Eating whilst standing has been a common practice in Japan ever since the Edo Period. Cheap and quickly prepared meals were served to laborers who would eat while standing before quickly returning to work. Having diners stand whilst they eat also saves money on space and encourages a quick turnover of customers.

How to Order and Eat Tachigui Soba

If you’re hungry, in a hurry, and fancy sampling tachigui soba, here’s how it’s done.

Much of the process is largely self-service. This helps to speed up the dining experience and also keeps costs down. Firstly, place your order for the type of tachigui soba dish you’d like at the ticket machine that’ll be next to the entrance of the restaurant. Once you’ve paid, take the ticket and pass it to a member of staff inside the restaurant. 

Depending on the restaurant, they may ask if you’d like soba or udon noodles. Otherwise, wait for a moment and your meal will be served to you on a tray within just a couple of minutes. Take your tray to a standing counter and tuck in!

Most people finish off their bowl of soba in the blink of an eye. The custom in tachigui soba stalls is to leave as soon as you’re done to free up space for the next customer, so when you’ve finished, don’t hang around. Clean up any spills with the wet towel that will be resting on the counter, return your tray, and you’re good to go.

The Most Popular Tachigui Soba Dishes

Here are some of the most common and most popular types of tachigui soba in Japan.

Kake Soba

The most basic tachigui soba dish is made from soba noodles and broth only. Typically the cheapest meal on the menu, a bowl of regular tachigui soba is called “kake soba” and usually costs as little as 400 yen.

Kitsune Soba

“Kitsune” is a classic dish of soba noodles and broth with the addition of a large slice of deep-fried tofu skin.

Kakiage Soba

A bowl of “kakiage” includes soba noodles and broth as well as a healthy sprinkling of fried vegetables and shrimp that have been deep fried in tempura batter.

Sansai Soba

Sansai soba is a healthy dish of buckwheat noodles served with an assortment of edible wild plants or mountain vegetables. 

Tsukimi Soba

“Tsukimi” means "moon-viewing" in Japanese. This type of tachigui soba is served with a raw egg, which resembles the shape of the moon against the dark broth.

Ebiten Soba

One of the most popular types of tachigui soba is “ebiten” soba. A bowl of “ebiten” soba is served with a large shrimp fried in tempura batter.  

Tachigui Soba - Japan’s Quick, Cheap and Healthy Morning Meal for Those on the Go

A popular morning meal in Japan, tachigui soba is ideal for those who need something to eat whilst on the go. Tachigui soba is quick, healthy, and very kind on your wallet, with a hot bowl of noodles costing just a few hundred yen. The next time you’re hungry whilst waiting for an early morning train in Japan, standing over a bowl of tachigui soba is the perfect way to set you up for the day.

Thumbnail: SubstanceTproductions / Shutterstock.com

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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James
James Davies

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