Long, Dark, and Soba

Soba (buckwheat noodles) with a tempura patty and scallion.

Soba (buckwheat noodles) with a tempura patty and scallion.

What’s long, brownish, thin, and a friend of pasta lovers around the world? The soba noodle of course! Made from buckwheat, soba is a denser, thinner cousin to the also popular udon noodle, often eaten in similar presentations. However, owing to their buckwheat pedigree, soba noodles have a somewhat nuttier taste than udon. Still, for those watching their calories, it should be noted that a serving of soba noodles contains about twenty percent more calories than udon. What to do?

Generally when you go to corner noodle stands in Japan, you are offered a choice of either soba or udon, hot or cold, with cold varieties being predominantly popular in the summer months. The hot varieties come in a broth flavored with soy sauce, mirin (Japanese rice wine), and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), with varieties in western Japan sporting a milder soy sauce taste versus those in the east. On top of the noodles and broth, you may find anything from tempura to egg to tofu to mixed vegetables. Spice things up with the table-side shichimi, the seven spice blend found all over Japan.

Soba also makes a number of appearances outside of soup! “Zaru soba” comes on a bamboo tray with a side of soy sauce-based dipping sauce and usually some chopped scallions and wasabi to spice things up. There are also cold soba dishes served with a more concentrated, but smaller amount of broth. On top of these cold soba dishes, just about everything under the sun makes cameos! Eggplant, nori (seaweed), natto (fermented soy beans), even canned corn, tuna and (gasp!) mayonnaise. The times, they are a changin’.

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Zaru soba

Just about every preparation we’ve talked about is available in both udon and soba form, so you’re just going to have to try both! But if you want to be a true Tokyo-ite, soba is going to be the ticket for you!

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Sushi and pickled ginger “gari” at restaurant Sushi Ken in Asakusa

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