“Soba” noodles were nurtured by Japanese food culture — a culture which is acknowledged by the world. In recent years, many soba specialty restaurants have opened mainly in Europe and the U.S., where people are health-conscious. Stand-up soba eateries that are popular among office workers in Japan also are recently having more foreign customers. Soba noodles are healthy and nutritious, and they are also good for your skin.
What is soba?
The history of soba (buckwheat) starts in the Jomon period (around 13,000 B.C. to 4 B.C.). The existence of soba pollen has been confirmed in the stratum of Kochi Prefecture, and it is said that this is the oldest soba in Japan. During the Kamakura period (1185 to 1333), the stone mill was introduced from China, and this made mass production possible. Buckwheat berries were ground into flour, which were used in cooking, thus soba dumplings and roast soba cakes started to become popular. Soba used in cooking was not in the shape of noodles like it is today, but rather, in the forms of dumplings and cakes. At first, soba was eaten instead of rice, so soba noodles did not exist in those days, but today, they are established as everyday food.
The “definition of soba noodle” is only one. It is “30% of buckwheat must be contained in the soba noodle.” So even if 70% of the ingredients of soba noodles are something other than buckwheat such as wheat flour, it is still “soba noodle.”
Types of soba noodles
Depending on the ratio of the buckwheat contained in the soba noodles, there are different names for each type of noodle. Let us introduce you to two representative types. One is “Juwari soba.” The soba noodles consist entirely of buckwheat. When making soba noodles, wheat flour is used as a binder, but in the case of Juwari soba noodles, no binder is used. A more common type is the “Nihachi soba.” 20% of the noodle is made from the wheat flour, which serves as the binder, and 80% is buckwheat. The Nihachi soba has a well-balanced flavor and smooth sensation in the back of the throat when eaten, and the 20% wheat flour makes it easier to make the noodles.
Soba noodles have been loved since the Edo period (1603−1868) as food for common people, and among them, there are three long-established soba noodle restaurants — “Sarashina,” “Yabu soba,” and “Sunaba.” Let us briefly show you each of their soba noodles.
● “Sarashina soba”
Their soba noodles are characteristic for the white color. When buckwheat is ground, the first white flour produced is used to make the noodles. The Sarashina soba is the name of soba noodles that are made of flour from the central part of the albumen of the buckwheat berry. The Sarashina soba uses the central part of the buckwheat berry, so there isn’t much of the well-known “soba aroma,” but it has a mild sweetness and unique flavor. Further, the Sarashina soba has little protein, so a lot of binder is used, which is one of the major characteristics. The soup is somewhat sweet and delicate.
● “Yabu soba”
It is characteristic for its greenish color. The color comes from the epidermis of the buckwheat berry. Soba soup for the Yabu soba is salty, with a lot of soy sauce in it.
● “Suna soba”
Among the three major well-established soba restaurants, Suna soba has the longest history, which goes back to the latter half of the 16th century, and has their origin in Osaka.
Also, you may hear “Inaka soba” very often in soba restaurants. Unlike the white-colored and delicate flavored Sarashina, the Inaka soba noodles are thick, dark-colored, and flavorful. They are typical soba noodles. The outer skin of the buckwheat berry is used to make the Inaka soba noodles, and they are distinctive not for only their color, but also the strong buckwheat aroma. Compared to the Sarashina soba, they are nutritious and have a lot of protein. Not a lot of binder is needed to make them.
By the way, when you go to a restaurant, you may notice there are several soba dishes on the menu with similar names. A lot of people must wonder what the difference is between “zaru soba,” “mori soba,” and “seiro soba.” Some soba shops may have nori (dried seaweed) on top of a “mori soba,” by usually, the difference between “zaru soba” and “mori soba” is whether it has nori on top of the noodles or not. The ones that have the seaweed on top is “zaru soba,” and those that do not have the nori topping is “mori soba.” “Seiro soba” was originally hot noodles made using steamer baskets. Nowadays, the difference between “mori soba” and “seiro soba” is the container. When you go to a soba restaurant, you will find either the mori soba or the seiro soba on the menu, but you would rarely see both on one menu.
Let us now introduce you to the “three major soba noodles of Japan,” as each are eaten in very different ways depending on which part of the country you are in. They are “Togakushi soba” of Nagano, “Izumo soba” of Shimane, and “Wanko soba” of Iwate. Though they are all Japanese soba noodles, each are unique, and eaten in different ways.
“Togakushi soba noodles” are arranged to be eaten without draining most of the water. The noodles originated in Nagano, where it is surrounded by mountains, so nori is not on the noodles when served. Hot daikon (white radish) as spice accompanies the noodles.
Usually, soba noodles are eaten by dipping them into soba soup, but “Izumo soba noodles” are known to be eaten in a unique way. The soba soup is poured onto the noodles.
Among the three major soba noodles of Japan, perhaps you hear the name “Wanko soba noodles” the most. The Wanko soba noodles are famous for its eating style. An amount of noodles for about a mouthful are put into a bowl, and when you finish eating it, another mouthful is refilled in repetition.
Soba noodles are gluten-free! Why are they healthy?
“Gluten-free” means wheat flour is not used. Recently, a “gluten-free diet” that is not eating gluten containing food as much as possible, has been garnering attention. We have heard that soba noodles are especially popular for this diet, because they do not contain gluten, and that it is highly nutritious. If you truly want gluten-free soba, remember to choose the “Juwari soba,” since it contains 100% buckwheat flour.
What are the nutrients in soba noodles?
Soba noodles are rich in fiber, and are also characteristic of having rutin content, making them the only type of food grain to have rutin. Rutin is a type of polyphenol, seen in red wine. It is said that if you eat one plate of mori or zaru soba, you take in 30 to 50 milligrams of rutin. Further, soba noodles also contain Vitamin B1 and B2.
How to make soba noodles/recipes
Soba noodles are made following four major processes.
1.The first process starts with buckwheat flour and wheat flour mixed well and then sifted. (Mizu-mawashi)
2.Small lumps of flours are pressed and kneaded into one large ball. The sides of the wooden bowel are used to knead in all directions. (Kone)
3.Spread uchi-ko (dusting flour) on the table and roll out the ball using the palms of your hands, forming a thin, round shape. (Nobashi)
4.Spread the uchi-ko on top of and under the thin dough. In order to cut it evenly into thin noodles, hold the komaita (cutting guide board) with your left hand, and hold the knife against the komaita and cut the dough by pushing the knife down and pushing away from yourself in order to cut into noodles with even width. (Kiri)
Finally, in a large pot of boiling water, put the soba noodles in while loosening them. Gently mix the noodles with chopsticks to keep them from sticking to each other. Though it depends on the how thick they are and how much you boil the noodles, but freshly made soba noodles are soft, so boiling them for about 30 to 60 seconds should be enough. When the noodles rise to the surface and the water boils again, you are done. Use a strainer to scoop them out, chill and gently rinse them with cold water.
Other ways of eating soba noodles. Soba salad?
All you have to do is cut some vegetables, mix them with the noodles, and toss them with dressing. We have heard that salads using soba noodles instead of pasta is popular in cafés among health-conscious people in Europe and the U.S. It is popular because it is filling, healthy, and you can enjoy a variety of different ingredients and dressings. You can enjoy making other types of salad by using not only vegetables, but chicken or thinly sliced pork, which can make a salad very filling. Try making some original dressing with ponzu vinegar soy sauce and olive oil. Or how about dressing with soba soup and sesame oil mixed together for soba salad with pork?
●Soba noodle onigirazu (*)
Soba noodles are used instead of rice for this onigirazu. It’s an innovative idea that allows you to eat soba noodles in a lunch box. You can eat them with one hand.
(*) onigirazu: a popular dish that was introduced in a famous manga. Rice is usually used. A sheet of nori is placed on cellophane film, then rice is flatly spread on top of the nori, and ingredients are put on top of that. Then, the four corners are folded, making a square. Unlike the conventional onigiri (=rice ball, can also mean “grasp”), you don’t grasp the rice to make it, so it is named onigirazu (meaning “grasping not needed”).
●Soba noodles and smoked salmon fresh spring rolls
It is a healthy fresh spring roll, since soba noodles are used instead of gelatin noodles. We recommend it as a diet menu. White radish sprouts, cucumbers, paprika, salmon, and uncured ham all go great with the noodles, but actually, anything in the spring rolls will taste great.
Sushi rolls using soba noodles instead of rice. Depending on what you put inside, they can look quite fancy. They are great appetizers at parties at home. If you put spinach, crab sticks, and omelettes, they can be Japanese-style soba zushi. For California roll-like soba zushi, put salmon, avocado, and cream cheese in them. You can make various kinds of soba zushi.
★How to make soba zushi
Boil the soba noodles, while keeping them from sticking to each other. Soak them in sushi vinegar, then put them in a strainer. Wait for three minutes. Cut the other ingredients in thin slices, then place them on the sheet of nori, covering the near half side of the nori. Holding down the soba noodles, tightly roll the ingredients up using makisu (sushi mat). If you hold them down too firmly, the noodles will ooze out, so be careful.
Like the name says it all, it is an inari zushi using soba noodles instead of steamed rice. The sweet thick broth matches the flavorful, light soba noodles. Shredded dry nori, green onion, thin omelette cut into strips, tuna, shrimp, etc. are toppings, making the inari fancy, great for serving guests.
If you want to eat soba noodles, this is where to go! Famous restaurants recommended by JOURNEY of JAPAN
Located in Kanda, “Kanda Yabusoba” is a well-established soba restaurant, which started business in 1880. It all started when the first owner, Hotta Shichibei inherited a branch shop from the main shop of Yabu soba located in Hongo Dangozaka. The main shop was originally called “Tsutaya (tsuta=ivy),” but since they had a lot of bamboo grove in their garden, they came to called their shop “Yabu (=grove)” with affection.
The main restaurant of “Yabusoba” preserves the tradition of Edo-style soba noodles.
The inside of the restaurant is a cozy, relaxing atmosphere, with table seats and a raised tatami-floored seating area. When relaying the order to the kitchen, they read it out loud in a special way.
Kanda Yabusoba’s soba noodles are a light green color. They use the highest quality buckwheat flour produced mainly in Nagano, Aomori, Hokkaido, and Ibaraki, and the buckwheat flour and wheat flour ratio is 10 to 1. Their soba soup is a strong salty taste of soy sauce flavored bonito soup stock. If you completely dip your noodles into the sauce, it will be too salty, so we recommend dipping them half-way. The one in the photo is “Seiro soba.”
●Closed on Wednesdays
The “HONMURA AN” that became popular in New York, is a legendary shop loved by many celebrities such as Steve Jobs. Much to the dismay of many in New York, this beloved soba noodle restaurant came back to Japan a decade ago. Formerly named “Honmura-an,” this famous well-established restaurant is now and modern eating place with a sophisticated and fancy atmosphere. Needless to say, their soba noodles are superb, even for the soba lovers who are most particular about the taste.
It is located right near the Roppongi Station. It is on the mezzanine floor of a building, and the entrance has such a modern look, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t notice it is a soba noodle shop.
The inside has a warm ambience with bright wooden color interior. Overall, it is modern in style, creating a calming atmosphere.
You can see how they are making the soba noodles from your seat. Their unique soba noodles are amazing. In the evening, you can enjoy a Japanese-style course dinner, which uses seasonal ingredients along with some sake. In the photo is a “Ten-seiro (set of soba noodles and tempura).”
●Weekdays: 12:00 -15:00（L.O. 14;30）, 17:00-22:30（L.O. 22:00）
Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays: 12:00-15:00（L.O. 14:30）, 17:00-22:00（L.O. 21:30）
●Closed on Mondays and 1st and 3rd Tuesdays
■Nadai Fuji Soba Asakusa Shop
When foreigners eat in Japan, “Fuji Soba,” or “Nadai Fuji Soba” is always on top of the list of restaurants to choose. They are a stand-up soba noodle eatery chain, expanding in the metropolitan area, mainly in Tokyo. Their Asakusa shop is especially popular among foreigners, and about a year ago, they drastically remodeled their interior into a more modern style. They have been actively expanding not only in Japan, but in the Philippines and Taiwan as well.
As soon as you enter the shop, first, buy a meal coupon at the vending machine. After deciding what to order, put money into the machine. (Japanese bills, coins, traffic system IC cards can be used.) After putting your money in, press the button. Your ticket and change will come out of the machine.
If you are thinking, “I don’t know what I should order,” then look at the fake food samples displayed in the shop window. You’ll get a good idea from their exquisitely detailed fake food.
This is Ten Tama Soba. Every morning, freshly boiled soba noodles (not dried) are directly sent to each shop. The tempura are deep fried using a special kind of fryer, allowing less oil in the food, and resulting in a healthy tempura. At “Fuji Soba,” they go through the extra process of “washing the noodles in cold water to bring out the al dente texture” just like ordinary soba noodle shops, so you can enjoy their delicious fresh soba noodles.
They also offer dishes that have rice, so you can enjoy them along with your soba noodles. Their Katsu-don is a one-slice meat with a chewy texture. Their Katsu-don using a special kind of sauce with soft egg on top is one of “Fuji Soba’s” signature dishes. They cook it after taking your order, so they are always freshly made.
Curry Katsu-don is a collaboration of curry rice and katsu-don. It is something you would think they would have, but was never real. If you can’t decide which, why not order this right away?
“Nadai Fuji Soba Asakusa Shop”
●Open 24 hours
Summary of soba noodles
Buckwheat dishes are, surprisingly, seen in many countries in the world. The France’s galette (crepes made with buckwheat), Italy’s pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta), Nepal’s roti (flat buckwheat bread), Russia’s blini (buckwheat pancakes), and more. Currently, the number one country that produces buckwheat is China, and the number one country that consumes it is Russia. The country where the amount of buckwheat consumed per person is 10 times more than Japanese, and is number one in the world is Slovenia.
There are various customs and ways of eating buckwheat. But for the Japanese, soba noodles are exceptional, as they are made by carefully choosing the right water, adjusting ingredients according to the temperature and humidity, and always in pursuit of making the best soba noodles. Soba noodles have always been present in Japanese food culture. They are still present in the everyday life of Japan and also Japanese tradition, as can be seen in the “Toshikoshi soba” eaten on December 31st for good luck, and “Hikkoshi soba” passed out to neighbors when one moves to a new place.
*The above information was last updated June 21, 2018. For further information, please contact the facilities directly.
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