April 13, 2010
by Harumi Sasaki; Rie Tanaka; Yuino Takenaka
What is soba?
Soba is a type of noodle, which is very popular in Japan. It is generally made from buckwheat flour, but occasionally is produced from a mix of buckwheat and other flours. This food has a long history and is now considered a representative dish of Japan. There are two distinct types of flavored sauces or soups used with soba, and these are ‘sobatsuyu’, which is a mixture of sweet soy sauce, mild vinegar, and fish stock, and ‘sobajiru’, a hot, soy based broth. The color, consistency and taste of the noodles often differs between the east and west of the country, and the hot water that soba is boiled in is quite popular as a hot beverage.
Soba has its origins in both the northeast and southwest of China, with the cultivation of the eating of soba noodles believed to have started between 4000 ~ 5000 BC. However, it did not make an appearance in Japan until 722. Its consumption became more widespread in the Nara period, but the shape and type of soba that is eaten today did not come about until the 16th or 17th century. According to literature from the Edo period, soba was commonly produced in temples and eaten in tea ceremony establishments. It wasn’t until the mid-17th century that it became a staple food in daily life and enjoyed more by the masses.
Kinds of soba
Basically, soba is eaten in two forms: cold or hot. There are also two main styles of eating, which require different utensils and tableware, though chopsticks are essential in all cases, as is the ubiquitous slurping that accompanies enjoyment of the dish. The cold dipping style requires the diner to pick up the noodles with chopsticks and dip them in a sauce in a separate bowl. The noodles in this case are boiled in water first, then served up in a steaming basket (seiro), or a bamboo colander (zaru). This particular style is older and more traditional than the hot, kake soba style, which is when the noodles are placed in a bowl and hot broth is poured over them before serving. The hot style has many types, but one of the most famous is Nishin soba, which is a very popular dish, especially in Kyoto.
Nishin soba is noodles topped with ‘migaki nishin’ (dried Pacific herring). This soba has a long connection with Kyoto and still remains relatively unknown to people outside of the Kansai area. The origins of this particular dish date back to the Meiji era, when dried fish was an important ingredient in cooking and people’s diet. Dried fish and other products were very important for those living in mountainous areas, as they weren’t able to take advantage of refrigeration technology for cooling or preserving their foodstuffs.
Famous Restaurant for Nishin Soba – Matsuba
Address: 192 Kawabata-cho, Shijo-ohashi higashi iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City.
Tel: (075) 561-1451
Open: 10.30 am ~ 9.30 pm (closed Wednesdays)
Our Recommended Soba Restaurant – Soba Dokoro Isamu
Here is a message from the owner of this restaurant:
“All the soba here is hand-made and we make it in a booth facing the street, so anybody passing by can watch us. The soba we make is finer than general soba and measures 1.1 cm in thickness before boiling. We have spent a long time perfecting what we believe to be the best thickness for our noodles so that we can give our customers the best experience. Our motto is “the best soba at the least expense”. We don’t use expensive ingredients, but we don’t cut corners, either. We can make terrific soba, because we have perfected a great technique.
Six steps to enjoying soba
1.Take in the aroma of the soba
2.eat a little soba without the sobatsuyu
3.drink a little sobatsuyu on its own
4.eat soba with sobatsuyu
5.eat soba with sobatsuyu and some added spices
The owner’s recommendations
■Nihachi zaru soba 750 yen
This is the basic zaru soba dish
■Ten zaru 980 yen
This is zaru soba with tenpura
■Tororo zaru 880 yen
This is soba with a ground yam topping
This is one of the ways to make soba. Soba is generally divided into two types. One is made only with buckwheat flour and the other is made with buckwheat flour and a Tsunagi like flour, including Chinese yam, etc. Nihachi soba is made from 80 percent (hachi) buckwheat flour and 20 percent (ni) tsunagi. Noodles made only with buckwheat flour snap easily when dried and are difficult to handle.
This is a kind of tea made from buckwheat, with a fragrance peculiar to soba.
This is the hot water that soba is boiled in. We can savor the aroma of soba with added sobatsuyu in soba-yu. People also drink it in different ways, such as with alcohol added, and usually after eating soba. It is not usually supplied with hot soba.
Address: 29-15 Yakage-cho, Saiin, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City
Tel: (075) 314-4098
Open: 11.30 am ~ 2.30 pm – 5.00 pm ~ 9.00 pm
Access: 10 minutes walk from Hankyu Saiin Station