Who doesn’t love Soba Noodles of Japan? It’s the perfect combination of springy noodles, chewy buckwheat, and a light broth that is both savoury and sweet. It’s like comfort food on a plate, with a history dating centuries back.
Soba is a staple of the Japanese diet, and it’s easy to see why: they’re delicious. Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, which means they’re naturally gluten-free and packed with protein. They’re also super versatile—you can eat them hot or cold, as a soup or a side dish.
Soba has been a Japanese staple for many centuries.
Buckwheat has been grown in Japan for centuries, but it has a much longer history in Asia. Originally cultivated in China and brought to Japan by the Chinese, buckwheat is a grain that’s rarely eaten as a whole: it’s more often ground up into flour or roasted and used as a topping for ice cream.
Buckwheat is native to Asia—it’s not related to wheat! It was first cultivated by humans around 8,000 BC when farmers noticed that certain plants could be crushed and turned into flour. The earliest evidence of soba noodles is from the year 1115. The monks who made these noodles were Buddhist, as evidenced by their practice of making soba without oil or salt. Many Buddhist monks still make and eat soba today. The ingredients used to make this sesame paste-based dish haven’t changed much over time: buckwheat flour (also called soba flour), water, and roasted sesame seeds are still the main components of modern-day soba dishes.
The first mention of soba in Japanese literature dates back to the 8th century when it was used as an offering at shrines. After Japan’s unification, soba production steadily increased and became a staple for commoners who could not afford rice. At this time, Buddhist monks and nuns began making their noodles from buckwheat flour using a wooden mortar and pestle.
By the mid-1600s, Shinto priests adopted some Buddhist techniques for making soba and added new elements, such as bamboo trees which were thought to represent longevity and good fortune. It wasn’t until after World War II that commercial machines were introduced that helped reduce labour costs while increasing productivity (and quality!).
Soba is everywhere in Japan.
If you’ve ever been to Japan, you may have noticed how widespread soba noodles are. If not, here’s a fun fact: they’re everywhere! Soba has become such an integral part of Japanese culture that they even have their day—Soba Day!
So what is it about these buckwheat noodles that makes them so popular?
It costs less to eat at a soba stand than at a ryotei (a fancy traditional restaurant). So people started eating soba regularly, not just once a year, for the festival, and the popularity of soba spread all over Japan.
Soba has been around for a long time and is still popular today. The first soba noodles were made from buckwheat, which grew well in the cold weather of Japan. People enjoyed eating them because they were filling, nutritious and easy to make at home when nothing else was available. Soba became so popular that there were over 60,000 places where you could eat handmade soba noodles at a counter or from street vendors and outdoor stands during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).
Soba on New Year’s Day
One of the most popular traditions in Japan is eating soba on New Year’s Day. They help keep your blood vessels healthy and reduce cholesterol levels. It’s also said that soba helps improve digestion after a big holiday meal. The tradition of eating soba on New Year’s Eve dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868) when it was believed that eating buckwheat would bring good luck and fortune in the coming year. The noodles were served with a special broth called kadomatsu mizubasho (made from dried figs and pine needles). It was thought to keep away ghosts and evil spirits while bringing good health and prosperity to families who ate it during their New Year celebrations.
The traditional way of eating soba is with a dipping sauce called tsuyu (pronounced “soo-yoo”), which is made from soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), dashi stock and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). Tsuyu provides flavor without being too salty or fishy like regular soy sauce would be when eaten alone on top of plain noodles.
Soba is made from buckwheat flour and can be eaten hot or cold. It’s 100% buckwheat and gluten-free! So it’s a healthy food that everyone in the family can enjoy together.
To make soba, you will need a tool called a Suribachi (すりばち). A Suribachi is a mortar and pestle that combines dry ingredients like salt, pepper and soy sauce with water to make your dipping sauce. If you want to use something heavy like granite, don’t try using glass!
Ingredients for Soba Noodles of Japan
- Buckwheat flour -300g
- Cake Flour- 60g
- Flour for sprinkling- as needed
- Water- 180 ml
- Mix buckwheat and flour.
- Pour a cup of water three separate times; start pouring a small amount and gradually increasing depending on the wetness. Mix the water in flour until it forms a crumbly mass.
- Now it is time to knead the dough. Press and spread the dough with your palm until the surface becomes smooth. Gently press and pat the air inside with your hand. After kneading the dough, press the ball into a flat disc about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick.
- The next step is to stretch the dough. Stretch the dough 1.5 times with your palm. Now roll out the dough by 1.5 times. Roll the disc into a rectangle shape about 18 inches and about 3mm thick.
- After you are done with the steps mentioned above, fold the dough three times using a rolling pin. You roll it and then flip it over to make that ”pat pat pat” sound as it rolls by the pin.
- Now cut into even smaller noodles, about half an inch and 3mm thick.
- Prepare boiling water and put the evenly cut soba noodles in it. Stir the soba until the water dries, drain the noodles and set them in cold water to cool them.
- For the broth: Soak dried mushrooms in boiling water for 30 minutes; strain out the liquid, then add it back to the pan and water until you have about 2 litres of the total fluid. Add kombu seaweed and boil, then lower the heat, so it’s simmering gently. Keep warm over low heat while finishing other steps.
So there you have it: the Japanese soba tradition for the new year.
I hope you enjoyed learning about how this dish is prepared and eaten in Japan. It’s such a simple dish, but it has a lot of cultural significance.
If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for future blog posts, leave them below!
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