soba

Soft green onions, gluey white daikon, and skin-coloured flakes of fish, curling gently in the heat of our breaths. Add these to the blue and white porcelain bowl which you’ve half-filled with a thin soy-based sauce, poured from a round ceramic jug. Break apart the cheap wooden hashi (chopsticks) and mix the green onion, the white daikon, the skin-like fish flakes, and a dab of gloopy green wasabi into the sauce. Pick up some of the dark dry green strips of nori (seaweed) and sprinkle them on top of the pale slippery soba (buckwheat) noodles. Lift some of the noodles from their red and black lacquered box, handling them with your hashi as best you can as they slide and slither, and place them into the bowl of sauce.

Now and then pick out one of the assorted shapes of lightly fried battered vegetables (tempura) that sit in another of the bowls on your tray (the one which looks like it’s red underneath is sweet pepper, the one which forms a lattice shape like a noughts and crosses board you don’t know). Dip these into the sauce too. And eat. Oishi desu. Delicious.

When you are finished plucking and sucking and mixing and crunching, pour half a cup of liquid from the square teapot you’ve just been given – it’s the water the noodles were cooked with – into the small handle-less cup, and pour in the remainder of your sauce. And drink. And look from the counter where you sit through the hatch into the compact kitchen, stacked with bowls and trays and black and red boxes, where the cook-proprietor stands resting in the heat with a white rolled-up towel tied round his forehead. His sweat beads as the condensation does on the sides of your glass of iced (and probably mildly radioactive) water. It’s so hot the air is chewy. A typhoon is on the way. It was hard to sleep last night because of the building heat but also because intermittently your room was trembling slightly. The tremors were subtle, barely perceptible, but you woke and knew that nothing was stable, not even the ground beneath you. But the food is good here. And since almost nobody talks about it, it’s easy to forget to question its radiation content.

Itabashi, Tokyo, Japan
22nd September 2014