What is SOBA

In the last few years there has been a real "sushi boom" in many countries around the world. Germany was no exception. Sushi restaurants have sprung up not only in the metropolises but also in smaller towns; and now you can buy frozen sushi in almost every supermarket. So it is no wonder that when you think of Japanese cuisine in this country, you mainly think of sushi. But just as, contrary to popular belief abroad, in Germany you don't just drink beer and eat sausages, in Japan there are many other tasty dishes in addition to sushi. In a small series of articles about Japanese cuisine, News from Japan would like to introduce you to other dishes that are very popular in Japan.

Soba - Japanese buckwheat noodles - are eaten as a typical noodle dish in everyday life in Japan. Since buckwheat has a high content of protein and vitamin B, it is also offered in Germany as a particularly healthy type of grain, e.g. in organic shops and health food stores. Soba, the Japanese variant of buckwheat, is little known. In the first article of our small series we would like to introduce you to “Soba”.

What exactly is soba?

Soba is a pasta dish made from the flour of the buckwheat grains. The noodles are gray, slightly brown in color and can be prepared in very different ways. Soba is popular all over Japan.
One way of preparing it during the hot summer is to serve the pasta cold (e.g. chilled with ice cubes). To do this, they are dipped into a small bowl with spicy sauce with the chopsticks and eaten in small portions. During the cold season, they are dipped in a warm sauce and eaten with various ingredients. These can be, for example, fried kitsune tofu, vegetables and shrimp wrapped in batter (tempura) or wild vegetables such as ferns. There are many possible variations here. With its characteristic smell and taste as well as the typical consistency that you can feel when eating and swallowing this noodle, soba is a dish that stimulates several senses at the same time and is therefore always good for surprises.

What to consider when eating soba

There is a special rule for eating soba that you should follow in order to bring out the special smell, consistency and taste of this dish even better: you have to eat the noodles while sipping, as this is the only way to get exactly the right amount Sauce sticks to them. When eating soba, you can and should sip really loudly. If, on the other hand, you were to eat soba “quietly”, you might get the impression that you don't really like the noodles.

Soba: history and customs

Buckwheat can look back on a long history in Japan, as it was introduced before the 8th century. However, it has only been eaten as a pasta dish since the end of the 16th century. Starting from Edo (today's Tokyo), it spread rapidly throughout the country from the 17th century and became a commonplace everyday dish. At that time, eating soba, especially in Edo, required a special sophistication or elegance, which is referred to in Japanese with the term "iki". A very specific style developed in this regard. A relic of this style, which has survived to this day, is probably slurping while eating soba.
Restaurants that serve soba dishes in Japan are usually called "sobaya" because they only serve this type of dish. This also seems to have its origin in the Edo period. Today there are sobaya in which you can eat the dishes quickly while standing, but also those in which you can sit down in a stylish setting to enjoy the dishes in peace.
Over time, regional differences have developed in the individual regions of Japan, which affect not only the taste and thickness of the noodles, but also the taste of the seasoned sauce, the type of dipping into the sauce and the type of food.
Soba is eaten all year round in Japan, but there is a widespread custom of eating so-called "Toshikoshi Soba" (literally "Soba for the transition to the [New] Year") on the last night of the year in particular. The origin of this custom is said to come from the fact that eating long pasta is a sign and wish for a long life.

Teuchi Soba (Homemade Soba)

The quality of the soba flour and the way it is processed influence the smell and consistency of the noodles and also give them their special taste. A common practice is to buy soba at a grocery store to cook and eat at home, or to go straight to a soba restaurant. For a few years now, however, there have been more and more people in Japan who want to eat soba, which meet the highest standards in terms of smell, consistency and taste, and who have made their own making of soba their hobby. There are more and more elderly people who are already retired or are about to retire who enjoy homemade soba.
There are even people who go beyond the limits of the hobby. An example of this is Masao Oguro, professor emeritus at Asahikawa University. Prof. Oguro comes from an old district of Tokyo, in which the atmosphere of Edo has been preserved. He grew up with soba from an early age and even his father indulged in the hobby of making soba himself. His fondness for soba finally led Prof. Oguro to prepare soba himself in addition to his academic work. He later became a member of the Asahikawa Soba Friends Club in Asahikawa City. There he continued to perfect his knowledge and skills in order to finally open his own soba restaurant. But Prof. Ogura even went one step further: he makes his own soba here in Germany, in the “Anan” soba restaurant in Wolfsburg, and trains the next generation at the same time. This is probably the first time that real homemade soba has been offered in this country.

Prof. Oguro has agreed to show us how soba is made.

The flour is put in a wooden vat and kneaded while adding water.

After further kneading, the dough is rolled out thinly with the help of a rolling pin.

With straight cuts, the dough is cut into strips 1-2 mm wide with a knife.

The noodles are put in boiling water ...

... and served!

Now you have taken a look into the mysterious world of soba. Perhaps you feel like enjoying the smell, consistency and taste of this tasty pasta dish yourself to the full. We wish you bon appetit!

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