Monday, February 21, 2011

Slurp your Soba

Soba noodles are made from whole buckwheat (a seed, rather than the grain status it is often afforded). Slurping your soba has been the authentic way of consuming this cuisine for centuries, the slurping apparently making it easier to activate all the senses when eating. They are served cold in the summer and warm in the winter, most commonly with a tsuyu dressing, which is made from a combination of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, buckwheat is considered sweet and cool, supplements the spleen, strengthens the liver and kidneys and treats food stagnation. Basically it's good for digestion, for those with a gluten intolerance or if you've been overindulging and need some simplicity to soothe your stomach.

When buying soba, be sure to check the ingredients, as there are many cheaper varieties out there which bulk up their noodles with wheat flour (look for 100% buckwheat which will be greyish in colour). You can also find green tea (cha), mugwort (mugi) and seaweed (hegi) soba. Until we can buy this tasty treat fresh from the train station (matsumoto style), look in your local health food store for authentic soba; you will pay more, but you will definitely taste the difference.

The best way to start with soba is simple. Here's a recipe for a cold soba and tsuyu.

Ingredients and method

1 packet of buckwheat soba
1 handful of chopped nori

Bring a pot of water to the boil, then add the noodles, cook for about 5 minutes, add about a cup of cold water to the pot and bring to the boil again, then taste. The soba should be firm but not chewy. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Top with chopped nori.

1 large piece of dried kombu
5 dried shitake mushrooms
3 cups of water
2 tbs Bonito flakes (optional)

Firstly soak your kombu in the water for about 30 mins. Add the shitake to this mixture and put in a pot. Bring this mixture to medium heat and simmer for 10 mins, then turn off the heat. If you wish to add bonito flakes stir them in now until dissolved.

1/2 cup dashi (recipe above)
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons of tamari (wheat-free soy sauce)
1 tablespoon of honey or sugar

Place all tsuyu ingredients in a pot and bring slowly to a medium, not to the boil. Warm and dissolve honey, then take off the heat. Place in a dipping bowl.

Hashi o kudasai?
This is one dish where chopsticks are absolutely essential. Pick up your dipping bowl, dip in a chopstick full of soba and slurp away!

*Adapted from Wang & Ono, 2010, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen


  1. I love your header. I remember sitting in a little ramen bar in tokyo and there was this man sitting up from us and his was slurping sluuuuuuuurping slurping, it was so awesome and made me smile :)

  2. I think a lot of Japanese people don't actually rinse the soba - they like it to retain that gelatinous sheen that it gets from stewing in its own juices. Also, it's totally cool to drink the soba broth as a chaser!