Eifuku Shokudo (栄福食堂, “Tony Soba”) – Ishigaki, Okinawa, Japan

Even if you didn’t know about Eifuku Shokudo’s pride of place in the Lonely Planet Japan guidebook for seven straight years, the storefront alone would stand out in a sea of already quirky independent cafes and boutiques in Ishigaki City, nestled in the Yaeyama Islands of Japan.  Nicknamed “Tony Soba,” at first glance the venue appears to be a crazy person’s unabashed shrine to a man named Tony, posing as a noodle shop.


Upon entering, do not despair if it is completely empty.  Simply ring the bell and a friendly elderly man will amble out to the dining space, ask you to sign a guestbook to keep track of his visitors, and take your order.  Tony Soba, as it turns out, serves some of the cheapest bowls of Yaeyama soba one can find in the southern islands of Okinawa.  With small, medium and large portions, the diner has the option of trying all three types of soba on offer: the original Tony noodle, the traditional Yaeyama noodle, and…goat, an uncommon meat ingredient for this dish.


The man, who then makes a beeline for the kitchen to cook your food, has been mistakenly referred to as the “Tony” in Tony Soba.  One look around the walls as you wait makes it clear that the endless headshots and film stills of one young photogenic star is the Tony in question – the Japanese actor Akagi “Tony” Keiichirô.  If all the photos appear to be trapped in time, that is because Akagi, nicknamed the “Japanese James Dean” back in the day, met an eerily similar fate to his American counterpart, passing away at the age of 21 in a go-cart crash in a Nikkatsu Corporation backlot in 1961. At that time, Nikkatsu had heavily invested in films depicting urban youth, and as such, Akagi left behind a far more significant filmography than Dean (who died at age 24), releasing 11 films in 1960 alone.


The shop’s take on Yaeyama soba is delicious, and stories of how the goat meat yagi soba can be a bit on the tough or smelly side are blown out of proportion.  The owner, however, unveils his secret condiment that elevates the taste of his soba dishes, whether they contain goat or not: a small clear container with a makeshift wrapper, written entirely in Japanese and boasting his own face (instead of Tony’s).


One can be forgiven, as I originally thought, for believing that this bottle was a mixture of various S&B seasonings in disguise.  It turns out that it contains pipachi (ピパーツ) powder.  The pipachi is a pepper unique to the southern Okinawan islands, and the addition of this seasoning to a bowl of Yaeyama soba completely transforms the flavor of the broth.  Eifuku Shokudo sells these by the bottle and they would not only be a worthy addition to future bowls of soba consumed across Ishigaki Island, but as a memento of the eccentricity that is Tony Soba.

Eifuku Shokudo (栄福食堂), nicknamed “Tony Soba,” is located at 274 Okawa, Ishigaki 907-0022, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, Tel: +81 980-82-5838. A past edition of Lonely Planet Japan listed the daily shop hours as 8:30 a.m. to midnight.

Photos: Eifuku Shokudo (栄福食堂) (“Tony Soba”), Ishigaki City, Okinawa, Japan
all photos by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine