Is Soba like Ramen? Not exactly >>Find Soba RestaurantsSoba is one of the three popular Japanese noodles (see Ramen or Udon). Made from buckwheat it can be served in either a hot or cold soup or broth. While there are many other countries that process buckwheat into noodles, the Japanese way has been refined to make it distinctively Japanese. Soba is a light dish (usually less than 300 kcal per serving) and is popular. When eating Soba, there are three main elements that distinguish Soba from Udon and Ramen and from the different varieties of Soba:
- Noodle type
- Soup or Sauce
There is more than one type of Soba?
Hiyashi Soba: Cold soba
Zaru SobaPrice 300-600 yen: Along with mori soba, zaru is the most basic and popular type of soba. It is served on a sieve-like bamboo tray called a zaru. Bits of dried seaweed are added to zaru soba for flavoring.
Mori SobaPrice 300-600 yen: Mori soba is served on a flat basket and does not have anything on it like zaru soba does. However, in the Meiji period (1868-1912) some restaurants added seaweed to raise the price of their mori soba. Additionally, both mori soba and zaru soba are served with a dipping sauce called soba tsuyu which is made of a strong mixture of dashi (Japanese broth), sweetened soy sauce and mirin. In addition to the sauce, wasabi, scallions, and grated ginger come together with the dipping sauce so that you can adjust the taste your preference.
Hiyashi Kitsune sobaPrice 350-800 yen: This dish is topped with abura age (deep-fried tofu), which is said in Japan to be the favorite food of foxes (kitsune is Japanese).
Hiyashi Tanuki Soba
Price 350-800 yen: This dish is a soba topped with tenkasu (bits of deep-fried tempura batter). In Japanese, tanuki literally means “raccoon” but in this case it comes from the abbreviation “tane nuki” which means “without ingredients” because tenkasu is a piece of tempura without any ingredients.
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Hiyashi Tororo sobaPrice 350-800 yen: This dish is topped with tororo, which is the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a slimy texture).
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Hot soba. (Usually just soba means hot)
Kake SobaKake means “just pour” soup, so in other words there are no added ingredients. It is a soba in hot broth topped with thinly sliced scallions, but to make it spicy, put some seven flavor chili pepper called shichimi togarashi.
Kitsune SobaThis is the same as the cold kitsune soba (abura age is the topping), it just is served as a hot dish.
Tanuki SobaAgain, this is the same as its cold counterpart, just served as a hot dish instead of a cold one.
This dish is topped with tempura, usually a large deep-fried shrimp.
Kakiage SobaTopped with Kakiage, this is also a popular dish like tempura soba.
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Tsukimi SobaA raw egg is added to this soup which poaches in the hot soup. The dish derives its name from the full moon because tsukimi means “look at moon” in Japanese and the egg in the soup resembles that of a full moon in the sky.
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Tororo SobaThis dish has the same ingredients as its cold counter part, it is just served warm.
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Soba, the New Year's dish >>Find Soba RestaurantsOn New Year's Eve, most Japanese eat soba as a popular tradition. In Japanese, the New Year's soba is called "Toshikoshi soba," which means "year-crossing noodle." Dating back to the Edo period (1603-1867), the tradition of eating soba has several superstitions surrounding it. The soba noodles are long and thin so it is believed that by eating them you will have "thin and long fortune for your family that lasts for years to come." Additionally, since soba is to cut, it is believed that by eating you will be able to “cut off last years problems” and start the New Year afresh. However, if you have any left at the end of the meal it is said that you will have bad finances in the coming year.
Forget your manners, just slurpEating soba can be a lot of fun because you must disregard most of the western table manners and do as the Japanese do: slurp your soba. When the Japanese eat soba, they tend to make a lot of noise and some say by making a noise you show your appreciation to the chief. There are however, a few differences when you eat cold and hot soba. When eating cold soba, you pick up a mouthful of noodles from the tray and then place them in the sauce for flavoring then enjoy. With hot soba, the sauce is already on the noodles so you just need to eat them, but the soup is separate so if you want it just put the bowl to your lips and drink it because you will not find a spoon to eat it with. If ever you are in doubt about how to eat your food, just steal a glance at what everyone else is doing and copy them. The thing to remember with soba is that the portion is relatively small so you might be still hungry after eating it. We recommend you ask for “Omori”, which means “larger portion”,or simply order additional dish. The half size donburi is a popular side item.
Soba is a good health food because of its low calorie count and great taste. At a nice soba restaurant, you'll be given "Sobayu", gray hot water, which is added into your soup to give it a lighter taste so that people can drink your soup, too. It is available only with cold soba because cold soba separates the noodles from the soup. Also, soba usually comes with Donburi, such as Temdon or Kakiagedon. It is said that soba goes well with tempura, so give the two together a try.
In addition to the different types of soba, there are two different types of soba shops: the customary sit-down restaurant and standing only restaurants. The sit-down restaurants are like any other restaurant you have ever been to, but the standing ones are slightly different and can be intimidating if you are not used to them.
1. Buy your ticket at a vending machine of what you want to eat. Unfortunately these are not English friendly.
2. Hand your receipt to the chief directly and wait for your food.
3. Take your food to an open spot and enjoy slurping and making noise!
Soba's brief history >>Find Soba RestaurantsThe origins of soba restaurants are a bit ambiguous but it is believed that they began around the early Edo period (17th century). However, at the time the soba shop were not restaurants but rather street stalls that acted as an early form of fast food. This is where soba shops began the standing only tradition because that was all people could do to eat it, stand.
The restaurant style soba shops began to spring up around the 18th century. Because they were larger than their predecessors, they were able to expand their menus to include things like sake, gyudon (beef bowl), oyakodon （chicken and egg bowl） and other kind of don buri (rice bowl). Modern soba restaurants have a very similar menu.
Before World War II, soba shops were very popular meeting places and had several amenities. Typically people would go after taking a bath and meet friends or dates on the first floor to eat and then proceed to the second floor after they finished to relax with their friends. However, after the war the customs changed and now soba shops have simply become restaurants that focus on expanding their menus and creating a traditional Japanese atmosphere.
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