The History and Origin of Soba
Japanese cuisine is not limited to Sushi nami, tonkatsu, and ramen, compared to what many people think. It is a more complex, interesting set of culinary art just like its popular counterparts anywhere else in the world. And, one of the national favorites would be the Soba.
What is special about this dish is that there are different variations of this food anywhere in Japan. Each region in the country has their own specialty where they add the ‘pride’ of their land and water. Some soba dishes are made entirely with seafood, others entirely with vegetables. There are certain soba dishes that combine flavors of a variety of meat in one serving.
Ultimately, one of the main questions in many people’s minds is where soba came from. Just like most Asian cuisines, the soba is strongly influenced by the Chinese and it is believed to arrive at the shores of Japan in the Nara period. Because its ingredients are locally grown and the process of making the noodles is fast and easy, it has become a staple in many parts of Japan. Its role in history is big as it fed thousands of individuals during the famine of the earlier times.
The Importance of Soba in Japanese Food: the perfect way to eat it
A lot of people confuse soba noodles with ramen and udon. There are times as well when soba is also confused with rice noodles. Although generally, they are similar, the difference lies in the style and make of the noodles. Udon noodles are much thicker and chewier. Soba noodles tend to be slightly thinner and firmer. Udon noodles are made from wheat flour while soba noodles are made from buckwheat flour, giving it a browner color.
What is interesting about the soba is that a lot of people enjoy it because it is gluten free. It is highly organic and is a great noodle alternative for vegetarians. Unlike its pasta counterparts, soba gives a much lighter calorie count with only 200 calories in a 2-ounce serving. On top of that, they are also very low in fat. So this is the best source of fiber for anyone trying to lose weight.
The Soba in Soup and the Yakisoba
Soba is a national favorite - this is the best reply to any question relating to Japan’s most delicious food. This is because soba can be eaten in a variety of ways. It can be eaten with a soup topped with tempura, fried meat, vegetables, seafood and much more. It can also have different soup bases like curry, kimchi, or dried kelp. It can be eaten hot and cold or even fried.
The best part about it is that it can be served in different styles and has different variants in almost every region all over Japan. One particular favorite is the zaru soba. This is a kind of soba noodle served cold. Unlike the other kinds which are served in soup, the Zaru soba is served in a bamboo tray with a side of cold dipping sauce. This is a great snack for any warm day.
Another interesting variation of the soba is the curry soba. It is a special kind of soba dish which is served in a piping hot bowl of delicious curry soup. It is a great meal for any cold winter or autumn day. It is also one of the local favorites because of its authentic and exotic flavor. Also, its beautiful color makes it picture worthy.
The Tororo soba is also another interesting variation, this is soba that can be served hot or cold with an oozing spoonful of yam or nagaimo. This is a special kind of sweet potato that a lot of Japanese like eating raw. When it is grated, it gives off a gooey texture that mixes in quite well with the noodle. Many people like this because it is a very healthy bowl of deliciousness.
One of the most favorite, and what makes soba very unique, is the fried soba or yakisoba noodles. The chewy soba noodles are stir-fried in a slather of special yakisoba sauce that gives each bite worth every Yen spent.
The Craze for Fried Soba in Japanese culinary
A lot of people say that this particular kind of food has strong Chinese influences and was derived from the Chow Mien, a Chinese-style noodle stir-fried in soy sauce. However, unlike the Yakisoba that uses on soba, chow mien can use almost any kind of noodle. Also, the flavor of the yakisoba has more Japanese influences as it can be topped with local seafood, tempura and much more.
The yakisoba sauce is a special concoction of soy sauce and other simple Japanese ingredients that give out a flavorful, thick and savory base. Then it is usually topped with stir-fried vegetables such as corn, carrots, and spinach. The meal is pretty much like noodles and salad mixed together, with an extra topping of mayonnaise to taste. Some restaurants also give that refreshing bite of pickled ginger, providing it just enough pang of spiciness.
Also known as the Yakisoba Pan, this is a favorite Japanese staple. It is one of the go-to snacks of both locals and foreigners in the country. It is pretty much an equivalent to the taco, burger or hotdog in a bun. Just imagine the normal soba, fried in soy sauce, topped with delectable vegetables sandwiched in a delicious bun. The intensity of the umami-flavored yakisoba sauce gives an unforgettable, mouth-watering ration of goodness.
The deliciousness does not stop there, it is also usually topped with dried nori, kewpie mayonnaise, and pickled ginger. This particular snack is available in local convenience stores and is everyone’s favorite on-the-go snack.
Noodles in a cup
Since yakisoba is quite a popular dish for young and adults alike, a number of local companies have found ways to provide ready-to-eat yakisoba noodles in a cup. Just like the ordinary ramen, a small amount of hot water could bring to life dried up soba noodles. Inside the cup are small packets of dried vegetables, and special sauces to mix in with the noodles once the water has been drained.
This is their solution to provide satisfying soba in just a span of minutes – helping to satisfy yakisoba cravings not only in Japan but all over the world. For those who are more creative, creating one’s own yakisoba pan is a great possibility. Yakisoba noodles in a cup with hotdog buns can work magic.
Beyond Noodles: Learning about Soba tea in Japan
Although the term Soba is often synonymous to noodles, the word can actually mean even more for the Japanese. One of the magical culinary uses of Soba is the Soba-Cha or the Soba tea, a drink quite popular for health and weight watchers in Japan. Made popular because of its gluten-free properties, the Soba tea is a very common drink used by the locals to boost and speed up their weight loss process.
It is not only great for weight watchers, it offers up multiple health benefits as well. It is preferred by many with cardiovascular illnesses because it is the caffeine-free alternative of a normal hot tea. It has also been claimed to help in the reduction of blood glucose, which is why it is strongly preferred by people with high tendencies for diabetes. Furthermore, some gynecologists also prescribe regular intake of soba tea for their patients with ovarian diseases because it aids in keeping the health of the ovaries.
Just heat up some water, dip the bag, then drizzle some honey and soy milk – a good alternative to morning coffee. Looking for a refreshing drink? Get a few tablespoon of hot water, dip the bag, add some cold water and ice, put in some citrus slices – nothing beats a good glass of refreshing iced tea.
There are a number of grocery stores in different parts of the world that sell buckwheat tea in a bag, just like any normal tea. For those who can’t find any in their local grocery stores, try visiting a few Asian grocery stores and maybe they can point you where to buy a pack.
The Soba Japanese Recipe: Yakisoba
How to Make Japanese Soba Noodles
For people who have never made noodles by hand, be it hand-stretched Asian noodles or pasta, making one’s own soba noodles might not be an easy task. It is advisable to buy ready-made soba noodles which can be bought in the Asian section of any local grocery shop. If there are no available soba noodles, perhaps a visit to any Asian shops can be a good idea. They can offer up good deals in fresh noodles (not the dried ones) while giving their shoppers a good stock of special ingredients as well.
Remember, soba noodles are made from wheat or buckwheat flour, these are usually the thick kinds. Rice noodles are not too advisable for some recipes as they give off a different flavor. If there is no direct translation to soba to the English language, it might be hard to find authentic soba noodles. So, maybe look for anything that says “Asian wheat noodles” in English.
- 3 to 4 Pieces of Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced
- 1 ½ tsp onions, sliced
- 1 whole carrot, stripped
- Scallions or green onions, chopped
- Pork belly, cubed
- Sesame oil or just cooking oil
- Yakisoba sauce (can be bought in bottles), to taste
- Ground black pepper
- Oyster Sauce (optional)
- Soy Sauce (optional)
- Yakisoba Noodles
- Bring water to a boil, cook soba noodles until al dente, or firm but edible. Make sure the noodles are not squishy as it will significantly affect the taste of the dish. Once cooked, strain and set aside.
- Cut the vegetables. The shiitake mushrooms and the onions must both be sliced. The carrots must be cut into thin strips, maybe the same thickness as the noodle or thinner. The meat must also be cut into small cubes, for easy frying. Other vegetables could be added, maybe cabbages and spinach can be added for additional flavor and crunch.
- Heat up the oil in a frying pan - some people prefer using a wok because of its bowl-like shape, it makes it easier to fry the ingredients together. Furthermore, cooking oil is okay, but some people prefer using sesame oil because of its flavor.
- Cook the meat until brown, then add up the onions until slightly wilted. Along the process, start adding the hard vegetables and stir fry along with the meat for flavor. Cook this for a few minutes.
- Once the meat looks brown and cooked and the hard vegetables wilted, add the softer greens like cabbages, spinach and the like. Grind in a few black peppers to add a bit of spiciness.
- Add a few tablespoons of yakisoba sauce to taste.
- Stir in the noodles, add soy sauce, oyster sauce or yakisoba sauce to taste.
- Top noodles with nori or chopped scallions.
Best soba in Japan: Where to find Soba Japanese Restaurants
Muto has been featured and reviewed by many international newspapers and magazines. It might not be a Michelin star restaurant but it prides itself in their new and innovative means of presenting hand-made soba. Muto opened up as a small restaurant but word has spread about their special soba dishes, making it one of the most popular in Tokyo.
They top their dish with grilled fish, or bamboo shoots giving it special, seasonal flavors. It not only makes the food even more delicious, the topping also makes the food photo worthy. What makes their food special is that everything has a light texture but very flavorful taste.
A Michelin Star restaurant, Tamawarai is one of the best places in Tokyo to get some delicious serving of soba. Many tourists have reviewed this hidden gem as an interesting place to eat soba because it is literally hidden. It does not have a sign outside, nor do they have any door indication of whether they are opened or closed. It just looks like a simple home. It is the long lines outside that will make anyone curious enough to find out what the place is. Everyone says that the delicious meal is worth the wait.