Imosen is one of Sendai's long standing establishments, founded almost 100 years ago in 1927. Located in a small traditional Japanese style alley with bamboo fences, Imosen offers tummy-filling Sendai soul food at reasonable prices. Unique for its early service hours, Imosen is one of the rare restaurants in Sendai to serve breakfast (other than major chain restaurants of course)! Their early business hours invite customers to grab a quick bite before heading off to work or class. If you're visiting Sendai, we highly recommend forgoing the hotel breakfast fee and making your way to Imosen instead!
Imosen's Asa Soba Tradition
As one of the rare places to serve breakfast in a tradition dating back almost 100 years, we just had to try their popular Asa Soba Setto or "Morning Soba Menu." With the choice of Udon or Soba (we chose soba) and available both hot or cold (we went with hot), the menu comes with a bowl of the "rice of the day," tsukemono Japanese pickles, spring onion toppings, and toro-toro thinly shredded yams, which have a sticky consistency similar to natto fermented beans. The rice of the day we were served was cooked with edamame and mushrooms, and was full of rich umami flavor. The toro-toro is also divine on its own, on top of rice, or mixed into the soba broth for a deeper flavour. This light but very filling dish is a great way to start the day off on the right foot. Not only was it a delicious treat for my taste buds, but I was surprised by just how much food is included in this set! Enjoyable year round both as a cool off from the extreme heat brought on by Japanese summer's summer months (choose the cold 冷やし "hiyashi" version), it also warms you up on a cold winters day by going with the hot version (choose the option with the kanji 温) like we did. For just 800 yen, you're bound to leave Imosen with a belly full of satisfying Japanese food that will last you well into the afternoon!
Other breakfast options include Zaru Soba (ざるそば), Kake Soba (かけそば), Kake Udon (かけうどん), Hiyashi Kake Soba (冷やしかけそば), Hiyashi Kake Udon (冷やしかけうどん), Chuka Ramen (中華), and Mekabu Wakame Seaweed Root Soba (めかぶそば). Check out the soba guide bellow for more details on the differences between zaru soba and kake soba!
Soba Guide & History
Originally, all soba was eaten in the "tsukemen" style of dipping noodles into a tsuyu broth. During the Edo period, when soba joints became more widespread, many found this way of eating bothersome, which led to the creation of kake soba (lit. "pour on soba") where, as the name suggests, the broth is poured over soba noodles. Kake soba generally designates soba served with hot broth (温), although they can also be enjoyed cold too (usually made clear with the kanji 冷). You may also come across bukkake soba, the original name for this kind of soba before it was shortened to just kake soba. In order to distinguish between kake soba and the original style of eating soba, the latter style became known as mori soba ("pile of soba"), which got its name from being served heaped up in the shape of a mountain. Rather than mori soba, you've probably come across menus serving zaru soba. The only real difference between mori soba and zaru soba is that zaru soba is served on a bamboo colander instead of a plate or bamboo steamer. Today, zaru soba is often served topped with nori and spring onions, a practice that became mainstream during the Meiji era.
A Family Atmosphere & Traditional Interior
Cherished among locals for its warm and welcoming atmosphere, stepping into Imosen is like traveling back in time to a simpler and more communal past. Rather than the typical irashaimase ("welcome"), staff will greet you with a friendly ohayougoyaimasu ("good morning"). Similarly, when leaving, they'll send you on your way with an itterashai ("see you later") instead of a formal mata-okoshi-kudasaimase ("please come again"). Not to mention, just like a caring family member, they'll give you a free probiotic dairy drink on your way out!
The interior has a traditional and retro feel to it, reminiscent of the Showa era. For many locals, it's like coming home to your parents' or grand parents' place, with its traditional ceiling lights, sliding doors, retro white standing fan, low tables and tatami mats. Speaking of which, pay close attention to the tatami mats and you'll notice something different about them. The tatami-fuchi (畳縁) decorative edge of the tatami mat is actually made out of denim jeans! When the owners decided to replace the old tatami mats (typically done every 10–15 years), they wanted them replaced with the most unique tatami in all the country. Imosen offered customers a morning meal in exchange for old pairs of jeans and with the help of local tatami makers, who enthusiastically jumped on the project, the denim tatami mats were created. This collaborative effort can now be admired both by locals and visitors alike as they chomp on their delicious breakfast noodles.
Behind the Name
Imosen (芋千) is actually a Japanese variety of sweet potato with red skin and yellow flesh. However, this name has a deeper meaning for the family running the soba business. It is said that the first owner named Imosen after his great grandmother, Sen, who made a living from selling dagaku-imo (deep-fried sweet potatoes with molasses), a popular sweet dish in Japan even today. daigakuimo literally translates to "University Potatoes," named as such for supposedly being one of the few foods university students could afford during the early Showa era. The third generation inheritor of Imosen dropped the "Imo" and the popular noodle eatery became known just as "Sen". On your way up the stairs to the entrance of Imosen, you can see the establishment's old wooden name plate that reads "せん" ("sen") comemorating this change. Having been passed down the family for four generations and wanting to highlight Imosen's family story, the current owner, Kenta-san, changed the name back to Imosen —albeit with a contemporary twist by using roman characters!
Some Soba History
Soba noodles are believed to have been popularized during the Edo period, which saw a rise in soba yatai stands popping up throughout the streets of Edo (modern day Tokyo). The Edo period was a radically different time than the conflict ridden sengoku-jidai that preceded it. Marked by a long period of peace, lower ranking samurai were left with no other choice but to take on part time work in a different field in order to survive. This led to many of them becoming part-time craftspeople and merchants, a change that profoundly impacts Japanese culture to this day. These merchants and craftspeople required food, leading to the rise of tachigui soba yatai ("eat-while-you-stand-soba"), the precursor to Japan's modern fast food establishments. One of the inheritors of this tradition is Kanda, the popular standing soba bar found throughout Sendai (if you live in Sendai, it's probably one of the first soba places you noticed!). Although originally founded in Tokyo 50 years ago, the Kanda soba tradition continues in Miyagi Prefecture only, as all previous Kanda soba establishments in Tokyo went out of business. Since the Edo period, proper seated establishments started becoming more and more popular, especially with the rise of Eki Soba ("train station soba") in the Meiji period. This seated way to enjoy soba is, however, a longstanding tradition at Imosen.
Located in an alley off the Disney Store shopping street. The entrance to this alley misleadingly reads "Yakiniku House," the barbeque restaurant in front of Imosen. Don't be fooled, it's an alley,not an entrance to a shop! 4 chome shotengai
Written by Catrina Sugita
Writer & 2022–2023 Editor-in-Chief