Soba, Japanese buckwheat noodles   蕎麦

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Les Uji soba au thé.

Les Uji soba au thé.

soba

Cold soba noodles (zarusoba)

soba

dried soba noodles

Tanuki-style soba.

Tanuki-style soba.

Small bowls of Morioka soba.

Small bowls of Morioka soba.

Soba noodles, eaten hot and cold

Along with ramen and udon, soba is one of the most popular noodles in Japan and is an ingredient used in many dishes. These delicious buckwheat noodles that are eaten cold, or served hot in soup, have a special place in the hearts - and stomachs - of the Japanese. Discover the history of soba and the best places to eat them.

Soba: the origins and history

The word "Soba" is the Japanese word for buckwheat. Although buckwheat has been cultivated in Japan since the Jomon era, or 15th century, soba noodles are one of the only dishes in which it's used (along with sobagaki, buckwheat dumplings).

They are very rarely made using 100% buckwheat, more often from a mixture of flours. Confusingly, yakisoba (fried noodles) and Okinawa soba (noodle soup) don't contain any soba!

According to the saying, the best soba is "hiki-tate, uchi-tate, tate-yude" freshly milled, made and cooked.

The most common way to eat soba is zarusoba, served cold and dipped in a sauce that varies according to region (usually salty and seasoned with bonito and seaweed). Soba can also be served hot in a soup, similar to ramen: This is called kake-soba.

According to tradition, soba should be slurped and then swallowed whole, not chewed - but beware of choking!

Soba, celebratory noodles

Soba dishes quickly became standard fare at major life events: it's customary to eat soba when moving into a new home, and especially to offer hikkoshi-soba to new neighbors. Toshikoshi-soba is enjoyed just before New Year in hope of staying healthy and living a long life: the elongated shape and dense texture of the noodles representing durability and stability.

Soba enthusiasts will be delighted to learn that there is a soba festival held every year in the fall in Matsumoto (Nagano prefecture). The opportunity to taste soba from all over Japan, for 500 yen per dish.

Local Variations

A very old dish, soba has many local variations. For example, in Uji, famous for its tea, you can eat soba flavored with matcha (green tea powder); in Kyoto it's eaten accompanied by nishin, grilled fish; in Morioka they enjoy it almost as a game, one that involves eating several small bowls of soba (wanko-soba). 

Some restaurants also serve you a little teapot or a glass containing some of the soba cooking water at the end of the meal: the idea is to pour it into your remaining sauce and then drink it like soup.


Matcha soba noodles

Matcha soba noodles

Wanko soba from Morioka

Wanko soba from Morioka

Small glass of soba cooking water.

Small glass of soba cooking water.

How are soba noodles are made?

WHERE TO EAT SOBA IN JAPAN?

Soba can be found in many restaurants throughout Japan. Like ramen, udon, or specialties such as sushi and tempura, it would be a shame to go to Japan without tasting these noodles, which are very popular in Japan

Apart from the Fuji Soba restaurant chain, where you can find soba dishes at low prices, some establishments have made it their specialty, preparing their own dough: here are some restaurants to tantalize your taste buds and discover these delicious noodles during your trip to Japan.

Kanda matsuya

Entrance of Kanda matsuya

soba

soba from Kanda Matsuya

Where to eat soba in Tokyo:

  • Kanda Matsuya

This establishment, widely recognized in Tokyo, has been open since 1884, in a beautiful building not far from Akihabara. Settle into this traditional setting, and taste their hand-shaped soba, seasoned with dashi (konbu and dried bonito broth).

Address: 1-13 Kanda-Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

Opening hours: open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (7 p.m. on Saturday)

Where to eat soba in Osaka:

  • Soba Takama

North of Osaka, the food capital of Japan, is the small restaurant Takama. Behind a discreet wooden front hides an establishment with a Michelin star (2017). Even if Osaka is not the homeland of soba, do not miss to taste their classic, cold soba, accompanied by excellent vegetable tempura. The restaurant is small, so to be sure to have a place, go there as soon as possible ...

Address: 7 Chome-12-14 Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward, Osaka, 531-0041

Opening hours: Open Wednesday to Monday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.


Where to eat soba in Kyoto:

  • Sobanomi Yoshimura

Without doubt THE most recognized restaurant in Kyoto for soba. Here, no risk of being wrong ... This soba temple, very close to the Gojo station, offers a wide choice of menus for dinner, in a beautiful modern setting but still typically Japanese. Their flagship menu is Moriawase-Zen, which includes sashimi, tempura, cold sobas, various vegetables and even a soba ice cream. The restaurant also offers a nice sake menu, to sip with its noodle dish.

Address: 420 Matsuyacho, Shimogyo District, Kyoto 600-8105

Opening hours: every day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Comments Read comments from our travellers

SOBA Noodle

I Love Japanese Food, specially buckwheat Soba noodles. It is delicious and healthy.