I don’t know why but I (and probably most Japanese) always feel like eating soba as my first meal when I come up to Hakone’s hot spring resort area. Is it because of my Japanese blood? Or is it because Hakone has a high density of soba shops and so its roads and paths are full of soba signs? I’m not quite sure. Anyway, this is a place where I can’t help eating soba to calm down my appetite.
Jihei(治兵衛) is a casual soba shop along the main shopping street of Hakone-Yumoto. It is easy to drop in and enjoy soba there while you are waiting to catch a bus or train. The restaurant is only a minute from the station—just past the second side street coming from the red bridge on the busy shopping arcade. It has a brown wall and a traditional black-tiled roof.
The interior is Japanese modern and has mainly table seating. This means you don’t need to take off your shoes! Isn’t that good for people who are not used to taking off their shoes? The first floor has a big glass window with a nice Japanese garden. Half of the ceiling is open to the second floor. The second floor has one small tatami-mat room and several tables along the rail. We can see the downstairs eating area from the second floor table seats. The furniture is what we call ‘Japanese handcraft style’. Tables and chairs are thick, heavy and dark-colored woodenware, sliding doors are designed with a wooden lattice, and the lighting is cottage style and dim.
Compared to other soba shops along the shopping street, Jihei is larger, more spacious and has more tables. The staff here works very efficiently, so the shop has a steady flow of customers.
Jiheihas a photo menu but sorry, no English descriptions, so I will explain some of the menu items here. Simple cold soba is 840 yen (a large serving is 1370 yen), cold or hot soba with an assortment of tempura is 1680 yen, a tempura rice bowl with miso soup is 1680 yen, three rice balls with pickles and miso soup is 950 yen, nabeyaki udon is 1790 yen.
My recommendation is the cold soba with tempura. It is a large serving (much more than standard) and the tempura is nice and crispy. The nabeyaki udon is another tasty noodle dish. It is udon noodles with a variety of toppings, such as boiled egg, shrimp tempura, mushrooms, seasonal green vegetables, and fish paste. They serve it extra hot in a casserole dish. It will warm you up nicely in the cold winter.
As huge numbers of tourists have been doing for hundreds of years, you too can get real pleasure from eating local soba in Hakone!