Noodle

These Spicy, Life-Changing Soba Noodles Are 100% Worth a Trip to NYC

The restaurant's motto: "Bland is our enemy."

November 14, 2018
Photo by Junki Ikeda

I have to admit that, for most of my life, I've been skeptical of vegan food. Maybe it was the rubbery, cardboard-like vegan mozzarella my mom tried to sneak into our lasagna (I noticed), or the frozen vegan "burgers" she'd stock the freezer with growing up. Maybe it was the fact that I loved meat, fish, and cheese in all its wondrous forms. Or maybe it was this one time when, during my freshman year of college, a girl in the dining hall shamed my friend for choosing bacon and eggs over the soyrizo scramble. Whatever it was, at a young age I had it set in my mind that vegan meant a delicious food (one that I’d normally love) trying to be something it could never, ever be.

This misbegotten attitude persisted well into my almost-adulthood. There were glimmers of hope: a fluffy cinnamon roll that almost fooled me into thinking it was chock-full of animal fats; stuffed mushrooms that were tender and flavorful yet utterly meatless; and the vegan Van Leeuwen salted caramel ice cream that almost made me a believer.

Then, I walked into Cocoron.

Set on a street in New York City that straddles the increasingly-less-gritty Lower East Side and NoLita (a neighborhood where you're most likely to encounter a crowd of bottomless brunchers, of which I am sometimes one), this Japanese soba noodle spot was my boyfriend's pick. It was the dead of winter (which is a miserable point in every New Yorker's annual existence), and we had eaten enough pizza, pasta, and bagels already. He was craving something different—spicy, soupy, slurpable—and I, despite what you may think about me, am always game to try a new restaurant, or anything really.

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Top Comment:
“They also operate a nearby Japanese curry shop, and I think I like that one even better than their soba shops Word of warning to people planning to go: cocoron as well as the curry shop they operate are cash only 😭 my favorite noodle spot in NY is an impossible decision between xian famous, mu ramen, hanoi house, and raku”
— So S.
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So we took the train down to Canal Street and quickly made the bone-chilling walk (those 10 minutes felt like an eternity) from the station to the restaurant. And not to be all cosmic or anything, but when we stepped inside, I had a good feeling. Cocoron is tiny, with just a small chef's counter (prime seating) and a small few tables—but inviting. It was also far warmer than outside. We sat down at the last two seats at the counter and examined the menu.

Photo by by me

My boyfriend, having read through dozens of reviews, knew exactly what he was going to order: the warm—and hello, vegan!—meera meera soba noodles. I, being skeptical, ordered something else.

It was a big mistake. Huge.

As he fawned over the thick and spicy sesame-based broth, homemade soba noodles, hearty tofu (two words I'd have never put together a year ago) stir-fried in ginger and garlic, bright scallions, and tender bok choy, I merely consumed mine. Don't get me wrong, my non-vegan bowl of noodles was still delicious, but there was no contest.

The few bites I stole from him were life-changing. How could something vegan be so rich, so flavorful, so damn delicious? If you are vegan, please forgive my ignorance of 23 or so odd years. The sesame broth was luscious and umami-loaded (thanks to a kombu dashi, aka kelp broth), while the chunks of tofu had a meatiness that could satisfy even my carnivorous proclivities. As for the firm, almost-nutty soba noodles? Well, they can rival an egg pasta any day, if you ask me.

Here, for the first time in my life, was a bowl of food that wasn't trying to be something else, but rather its own amazing thing—and it just so happened to be vegan.

The next time my boyfriend visited (we're long-distance), we went straight back. I obviously did not make the same mistake twice. We both ordered our own bowl of the vegan meera meera soba noodles and slurped and sipped until we were pouring the remaining broth from the bowl directly into our mouths. It was heaven.

Now I go as often as I can: when it's freezing outside (like it's getting to be now); when I'm able to lure a friend who's never been before; when I need to eat something that makes me feel better about the world; and when I'm hungover (few things will force a stubborn headache or upset stomach into submission like that spicy sesame broth). I take a seat at the counter and know that my day is about to get just a little bit better...and that my nose will inevitably run (thanks again, spicy sesame broth).

How could something vegan be so rich, so flavorful, so damn delicious?

This should come as no surprise, though, considering the restaurant's name. Recently my Japanese-speaking friend told me that Cocoron roughly means "warm heart." And it's true, a bowl of soba noodles at Cocoron—especially on a glacial winter day—will warm your heart in every sense of the word.

It might just also change your mind about how good vegan food actually is and can be.

Cocoron has two locations on the Lower East Side; they both sell these life-changing soba noodles, but my favorite is the one at 37 Kenmare Street.

What's your favorite noodle spot in New York City, or around the world? Tell us in the comments below!

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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10 Comments

Sara November 20, 2018
My favorite! I also recommend the dip version; it's a bit more leisurely without worrying about your soba noddles getting too "long". Also, I hope you try the Yuba Dip, the homemade tofu, and the addicting miso coleslaw!
 
Jose O. November 17, 2018
I love Ippudo near Union Square. I got takeout from Minca on east 5th and B on Thursday during the snow storm (you’re right, totally better in cold/snowy weather) which was legit
 
Julian November 16, 2018
Wow, I'm in the same boat, Erin! Hopefully I can check out Cocoron with some of my friends and turn me into a believer!
 
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Erin A. November 17, 2018
You absolutely should if you get the chance! I always try to bring a friend or two with me, especially if they haven't tried them before.
 
Eric K. November 15, 2018
Dying to go try these now!
 
Author Comment
Erin A. November 16, 2018
If you haven't yet, you must! Also, this snowy-slushy weather is perfect for them.
 
Lauren P. November 14, 2018
Where is the recipe?
 
Author Comment
Erin A. November 15, 2018
Hey, Lauren! There actually isn't a recipe for this post; to me, this is a case where the restaurant really does it best, making it worth a visit. Plus, I'm not sure they'd want to give away their secret-sauce formula!
 
So S. November 14, 2018
They also operate a nearby Japanese curry shop, and I think I like that one even better than their soba shops<br /><br />Word of warning to people planning to go: cocoron as well as the curry shop they operate are cash only 😭<br /><br />my favorite noodle spot in NY is an impossible decision between xian famous, mu ramen, hanoi house, and raku
 
Author Comment
Erin A. November 15, 2018
Ohhh I need to try all of these! And yeah, I totally showed up without cash the first time, but luckily there's a Bank of American right around the corner 😂