Definitions

Soba

Soba

[soh-buh]

is a type of thin Japanese noodle made from buckwheat flour. It is served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup. Moreover, it is not uncommon in Japan to refer to any thin noodle as soba in contrast to udon which are thick noodles made from wheat.

In Japan, soba noodles are served in a variety of situations. They are a popular inexpensive fast food at train stations throughout Japan, they are served by exclusive and expensive specialty restaurants, and they are also made at home. Markets sell dried noodles and men-tsuyu, or instant noodle broth, to make home preparation easy.

Some establishments, especially cheaper and more casual ones, may serve both soba and udon (thick wheat noodles) as they are often served in a similar manner. However, soba is traditionally the noodle of choice for Tokyoites. This tradition originates from the Edo period when the population of Edo (Tokyo), being considerably wealthier than the rural poor, were more susceptible to beri beri due to their high consumption of white rice which is low in thiamine, and are thought to have made up for this by regularly eating thiamine-rich soba. Every neighbourhood had one or two soba establishments, many also serving sake, which functioned much like modern cafes where locals would drop by casually.

Serving soba

Soba is typically eaten with chopsticks, and in Japan, it is traditionally considered polite to slurp the noodles noisily. This is especially common with hot noodles, as drawing up the noodles quickly into the mouth acts to cool them down. However, quiet consumption of noodles is no longer uncommon.

Common soba dishes

Like many Japanese noodles, soba noodles are often served drained and chilled in the summer, and hot in the winter with a soy-based dashi broth. Extra toppings can be added onto both hot and cold soba. Toppings are chosen to reflect the seasons and to balance with other ingredients. Most toppings are added without much cooking, although some are deep-fried. Most of these dishes may also be prepared with udon.

Cold Chilled soba is often served on a sieve-like bamboo tray called a zaru, sometimes garnished with bits of dried nori seaweed, with a dipping sauce known as soba tsuyu on the side. The tsuyu is made of a strong mixture of dashi, sweetened soy sauce (also called "kaeshi") and mirin. Using chopsticks, the diner picks up a small amount of soba from the tray and swirls it in the cold tsuyu before eating it. Wasabi, scallions, and grated ginger are often mixed into the tsuyu. It's said that the best way to experience the unique texture of hand-made soba noodles is to eat them cold, since letting them soak in hot broth changes their consistency. After the noodles are eaten, many people enjoy drinking the water in which the noodles were cooked (sobayu), mixed with the leftover tsuyu.

  • Mori soba 盛り蕎麦 – Basic chilled soba noodles served on a flat basket or a plate.
  • Zaru soba 笊蕎麦 – Mori soba topped with shredded nori seaweed.
  • Bukkake soba– Cold soba served with various toppings sprinkled on top, after which the broth is poured on by the diner. It may include:
    • tororo – puree of yamaimo (a Japanese yam with a slimy texture)
    • oroshi – grated daikon radish
    • natto – sticky fermented soybeans
    • okra – fresh sliced okra
  • Soba maki – Cold soba wrapped in nori and prepared as makizushi.

  • Soba salad: Cold soba mixed in sesame dressing with vegetables. It is more of a modern and fusion cold soba dish.

Hot Soba is also often served as a noodle soup in a bowl of hot tsuyu. The hot tsuyu in this instance is thinner than that used as a dipping sauce for chilled soba. Popular garnishes are sliced scallion and shichimi togarashi (mixed chilli powder).

  • Kake soba 掛け蕎麦 – Hot soba in broth topped with thinly sliced scallion, and perhaps a slice of kamaboko (fish cake).
  • Kitsune soba (in Kantō) or Tanuki soba (in Kansai) – Topped with abura age (deep-fried tofu).
  • Tanuki soba (in Kantō) or Haikara soba (in Kansai) – Topped with tenkasu (bits of deep-fried tempura batter).
  • Tempura soba 天麩羅蕎麦 – Topped with tempura, usually a large shrimp.
  • Tsukimi soba ("moon-viewing soba") – Topped with raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup.
  • Tororo soba – Topped with tororo, the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a slimy texture).
  • Wakame soba – Topped with wakame seaweed

Soba served on special occasions

Soba is traditionally eaten on New Years Eve in most areas of Japan, a tradition which survives to this day (Toshikoshi soba.) In the Tokyo area, there is also a tradition of giving out soba to new neighbours after a house move (Hikkoshi soba), although this practice is now rare.

Varieties of soba noodles

The most famous Japanese soba noodles come from Nagano. Soba from Nagano is called Shinano Soba or Shinshu soba. Ni-hachi (二八, two-eight) soba, consists of two parts of wheat and eight of buckwheat; Juuwari (十割, 100%) soba, the finest (and usually most expensive) variety, consists entirely of buckwheat.

  • Sarashina soba – thin, light-colored soba, made with refined buckwheat
  • Inaka soba – "country soba", thick soba made with whole buckwheat

By location

  • Shinshu soba – named after the old name of Nagano Prefecture. Also known as Shinano soba. (Shinano=Shinshu)
  • Etanbetsu soba – named after the central region of Hokkaidō (Asahikawacity)
  • Izumo soba – named after Izumo in Shimane
  • Izushi soba – named after Izushi in Hyōgo
  • Memil guksu (hangul: 메밀국수) - Korean noodles similar to soba

By ingredients

  • Tororo soba or Jinenjo soba – flavored with wild yam flour
  • Cha soba – flavored with green tea powder
  • Mugi soba – flavored with mugwort
  • Hegi soba – flavored with seaweed
  • Ni-hachi soba – soba containing 20% wheat and 80% buckwheat
  • Towari soba or Juwari soba – 100% buckwheat soba

Other uses of the word soba

Soba is also the Japanese word for buckwheat. Roasted buckwheat kernels may be made into a grain tea called sobacha, which may be served hot or cold. Buckwheat hulls, or sobakawa(also called sobagara), are used to fill pillows. Sometimes, beers are made with roasted buckwheat added as a flavoring, and called "soba ale"

Soba is occasionally used to refer to noodles in general. In Japan, ramen is sometimes called chūka soba or shina soba (both mean Chinese noodles). Parboiled chūka soba is stir-fried to make yakisoba. Note that these noodles do not contain buckwheat.

In Okinawa, soba usually refers to Okinawa soba, a completely different dish of noodles made out of flour, not buckwheat. Okinawa soba is also quite popular in the city of Campo Grande (Brazil), due to influence of Japanese (Okinawan) immigrants. It is eaten at street markets or in special restaurants called "sobarias".

See also

External links

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