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Wanko Soba (わんこそば): Bite Sized Soba from Iwate

Wanko Soba (わんこそば) is a famous soba dish from Iwate Prefecture (Tohoku Region).

It is more like a style of serving soba, than a dish itself. Small, bite-sized portions of soba are served in small bowls, and continuously refilled until the customer puts a lid on his bowl.

Wan“(椀) means bowl in Japanese. In Iwate dialect, “ko” (こ) is added to the end of the word, hence “wanko“.

Read on for more interesting info about wanko soba!


wanko soba spread
Wanko soba is typically served alongside many other condiments and side dishes.

The main ingredients of Wanko Soba are:

  • Soba

That’s it! Just endless tiny bowls of soba. Portion size depends on the restaurant, but is typically somewhere around 10-20 grams. According to Azumaya restaurant in Morioka (see below), 15 wanko soba bowls is equivalent to 1 standard bowl of kake-soba (かけそば).

Wanko soba is typically served alongside various condiments and toppings such as tuna sashimi, grated nameko mushrooms, minced pork, sesame, seaweed, pickles, pickled vegetables, grated yam, green onions, wasabi, and more.

Location / Where to Eat

azumaya wanko soba restaurant
Some Customers enjoying Wanko soba at Azumaya restaurant in Morioka.

Wanko soba is originally from Iwate Prefecture in Tohoku Region of Japan.

Specifically, it is mainly found in Morioka City (the captial) and Hanamaki City.

The most popular restaurant to try Wanko Soba in Morioka is Azumaya. They have a few locations in the city. Here is a Google Maps link to the original location in case you’re in the area.

Read on for more about Wanko soba’s interesting history:

History / Origin of Wanko Soba

There are a couple different theories about the origin of Wanko soba. One theory is from Morioka, and one is from Hanamaki. Neither has any written history, but has been passed down through story.

Morioka Theory

hara takashi
Takashi Hara — the man responsible for Wanko soba?

Takashi Hara, a former prime minister of Japan (1918-1921), was born in in Morioka. When he returned to his hometown for his mother’s 88th birthday, he hosted a party for the citizens. At this party, soba was served in small bowls, with condiments placed on the inner lid. This was the beginning of Wanko soba in Morioka.

Hanamaki Theory

During the Keicho era (1596 – 1615) a famous lord of the time called Toshinao Nanbu stopped by Hanamaki Castle on his way to Edo.

He was served small portions of the local soba in small lacqured bowl. The lord like the soba so much that he kept asking for more, and the store kept refilling his bowl.

Restaurants eventually began serving wanko soba to the general public, and households would also serve it at home when they had guests over.

This was the beginning of Wanko soba in Hanamaki.

The Hanamaki theory predates the Morioka theory by many years, but neither is for certain 🙃

How to eat Wanko Soba

Video of customers eating a wanko soba restaurant

When you go go to a Wanko soba restaurant, a waitress will literally stand besides you ready to refill your bowl as you eat.

Just slurp the soba noodles up, and hold your bowl out for the waitress to refill. Repeat until full. 😂

There is no rule that you have to eat as fast as possible (unless you’re in a competition). Just take your time, and enjoy the unique wanko soba experience.

Here are some instructions from the Azumaya restaurant:

  1. Put on an apron first
  2. Open the lid of the bowl and lift it high so that the waitstaff can easily add the soba noodles.
    The waiter puts the soba noodles into the bowl while shouting things like “Yes, dondon!“.
  3. For your first bowl, enjoy the taste of soba without adding any condiments. For proceeding bowls, try topping it with various condiments to create different flavors.
  4. When too much soup collects at the bottom of your bowl, put it in the bucket on the table.
  5. When you want to stop eating, eat all the soba in your bowl and put the lid on top of your bowl for your waitress to see.

Fun Facts about Wanko Soba

  • Wanko Soba is one of the “big 3” soba dish types in Japan. The other two are Togakushi soba from Nagano Prefecture, and Izumo Soba from Shimane Prefecture
  • Wanko Soba, is also one of`Morioka’s three major noodles”, which also incude Morioka Jajamen, and Morioka cold noodles
  • Every year, there is a wanko soba eating competition in both Hanamaki and Morioka
  • The record for the Hanamaki competition (i.e. “Wanko Soba All-Japan Tournament” わんこそば全日本大会) is 258 bowls in 5 minutes. Each bowl is about 10g of soba.
  • The record for the Morioka competition (i.e. 全日本わんこそば選手) is 632 bowls in 15 minutes.


Have you ever tried wanko soba before? What did you think of it?

Leave your thoughts and comments below!

Chef Goku

Chef Goku

Chef Goku is the founder and sole operator of The Chef Dojo. He loves Japanese food, and has lived in and out of Japan for many years. He started this blog in 2018 to share everything he learns about Japanese food and cooking. He is also a self-certified Japanese knife nerd. Contact Chef Goku

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