”I miss Megumi,” my father sometimes says. It is not the name of his ex-friend, his lost younger sister, or dog he used to have. It is the name of the soba (buckwheat noodle) restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn’t exist anymore. There is no such restaurant as Megumi that he loved and often went to.
My uncle told my father, “in the middle of rice paddies, there is a really good soba restaurant. You should try.” Since they grew up eating their mother’s cooking, they have the same sense of taste. My father decided to try the soba right away. It took about 15 minutes by car from our house to Megumi. It stood alone in the middle of rice paddies and its appearance didn’t look like a soba restaurant. A simple shop curtain was hung at the entrance of an ordinary Japanese house; it was the only sign to say the place was some kind of shop. If you didn’t have any information about it, you were probably not willing to walk in. But my father thought, considering its’ low-key atmosphere, the owner might have a good confidence.
When he walked into the restaurant, an unfriendly looking owner, seemingly around 70s, was standing behind the counter. He didn’t give any smile to my father. There were just one small seat at the bar for five people and two little tables, each with four chairs. The TV at the back of the bar was showing NHK’s Sunday singing contest. There were no other customers. Without hesitation, my father sat on a seat at the bar. The menu was very simple with only five different kind of soba: Morisoba (soba in soup), Zaru soba (cold soba served on draining basket with dipping sauce), Oroshi soba, (cold soba with grated daikon radish), Mekabu soba (soba with Mekabu seaweed), and Nishin soba (soba with stewed herring on top). “Can I get an extra serving of Oroshi soba?” my father immediately placed an order. Then the owner seemed being irritated and said, “I don’t have extra serving. After you finish one portion, order another one.” While my father couldn’t help but wonder about the owner’s lack of hospitality, he also thought he should first try the soba before he complained. “The style of the owner decides everything here and it won’t be shaken by customers. He only serves what he wants. Being particular is probably a proof of good restaurant.” And with that, my father quietly waited for soba. The owner silently put the bowl of Oroshi soba in front of my father, without even saying, “here we go.”
The moment my father put the soba into his mouth, something opened up inside him. More precisely, something was completed within him. Although he was not particularly care for soba, he had a good taste in soba after trying several nationally known soba. However, the very moment when he ate the soba at Megumi, he met the best and perfect soba. Suddenly, he had a fateful encounter. The perfect thing for him existed actually just a stone’s throw away.
Since then, he started going to Megumi frequently. Taking my mother to Megumi to eat soba on weekends became a usual event. When he took his friends to Megumi, everybody was impressed with how tasty it was. After hearing the rumor, I also started going to Megumi at least once during my visit home. Even though the soba was made of 100% buckwheat, it had chewy but smooth texture. Needless to say, the dipping sauce was also tasty and just right temperature. Grated daikon radish had enough pungency. It was delicious and left nothing to be desired.
The only worry was unsociability of the owner, but once we became a regular customer, he started exchanging small talk with us, even though it still didn’t often happen. We tried to ask him about the soba because it was very good but he avoided the questions; when we said something that he didn’t like, he answered to us curtly. Sometimes my father was so furious at the owner’s attitude that he thought he would never go to Megumi anymore. But, not being able to eat Megumi’s soba was more painful than the attitude of the owner. Actually, there was the reason for the owner’s attitude. He was very particular about his soba—he had a high pride over his soba. Because my father understood it, he couldn’t hate the owner. As he got used to the owner’s attitude, he became fond of Megumi including the owner’s character. He often wondered why there were not many customers even at the lunchtime on weekends. “Probably because although the soba is the first-class, the owner is not eager to bring more customers in. Also with such unfriendly attitude, it must be difficult to get regular customers. What a waste,” my father said it over and over.
One day the owner started talking to us, “well, I decided to close the restaurant. I am too old, you know”. On the last day of Megumi, we went to eat the soba for the last time. The restaurant was full with regular customers. We ate the usual Oroshi soba watching NHK’s singing contest, as always. I remember we didn’t talk much with the owner. As usual, we said, “it was tasty. I really enjoyed the meal, ” and we left Megumi.
Once the owner told us “Soba must bring happiness to customers. Otherwise it means nothing.” We know that, even though he was unfriendly, his soba explained who he was. Pure and straightforward, but at the same time, delicate and sophisticated—that was Megumi’s soba. Perhaps, everything created with author’s faith always has a place to reach to touch the people’s heart. And such kind of things is to be inherited, in whatever the form. The owner of Megumi has no idea that he is still the conversation topic of the Amanos. “I miss Megumi,” probably we will keep saying it. There is no doubt that Megumi is the legendary soba restaurant for us.
text & illustration by Sayuri Amano
English translation by Megumu Ogata