Soba (buckwheat noodles) (蕎麦)
Soba is a type of Japanese noodles made from buckwheat berries and cuisine using those noodles. It is also referred to as Sobakiri (buckwheat noodles) or nihonsoba (Japanese noodles). Soba has a long history being a representative Japanese food along with udon (Japanese wheat noodles), sushi and tenpura. There is an obvious difference in color, concentration and taste of 'soba-tsuyu' (dipping sauce or soup for soba) and 'soba-jiru' (dipping sauce or soup for soba), the seasoning for soba, depending largely on whether it is made in the eastern or western part of Japan. The ingredients for soba-tsuyu and soba-jiru also vary depending on the location. Water used to cook soba is served as a beverage referred to as soba-yu (hot soba water).
Soba (buckwheat) is an annual polygonaceous plant grown not only in Japan but also in inland areas of Asia, East Europe, Central Europe, Northern Europe, mountainous regions of Southern Europe, South and North America and some other areas for food. Please see 'Soba' (Buckwheat) for the characteristics of buckwheat as plant or crop where they have been discussed in detail.
For handmade buckwheat noodles, put buckwheat flour (which has been discussed under Sobako, buckwheat flour) in a wooden bowl referred to as hachi, add water and knead the mixture into dough. Transfer the dough onto a floured wooden board and, using a rolling pin referred to as Japanese menbo, roll the dough out into a thin sheet. Transfer the above-mentioned sheet onto a cutting board and, using a ruler referred to as 'komaita,' (a ruler-like utensil used to guide the soba cleaver to ensure that noodles are cut in consistent thickness) cut the noodle sheet into one to two millimeter-wide strips. Boil in water and the noodles are ready to serve.
Since, unlike protein contained in wheat flour, the protein contained in buckwheat flour does not form gluten; it is difficult to make dough with buckwheat flour if it is mixed with water alone. A binding agent such as wheat flour, yam, eggs, glue plant (G. furcata) or Synurus pungens is often added to the buckwheat flour mixture for viscosity necessary to form dough.
Soba made from 100% buckwheat flour is referred to as Kikouchisoba (also known as Juwari soba or Towari soba). As the binding agent for Juwari soba, either hot water is added to buckwheat flour to accelerate starch gelatinization or buckwheat flour which has been gelatinized separately is sometimes used. There are additional methods for making Juwari soba such as; by fine milling buckwheat flour, by using a noodle machine to push soba dough through fine holes or by kneading coarsely milled buckwheat flour and water by hand of a master soba chef. Juwari soba breaks more easily than the so-called Nihachi soba (soba noodle made from eighty percent buckwheat flour and twenty percent wheat flour) which contains wheat flour as a binding agent. During the Edo period, soba was mainly steamed and served in a steamer and was not boiled as it is commonly done today. Seiro soba' (soba served on a bamboo steamer) which appears on menu as a popular item today is a reminder of that practice during the Edo period.
How the sauce covers the soba depends on the thickness and the ingredients of the noodles. Thin soba picks up the soup more easily. Soba that easily picks up the sauce is eaten with a small amount of more intensely-seasoned sauce. Thick soba is referred to as Dojo soba (loach soba).
Water in which soba has been boiled becomes something like very thin porridge. This liquid is referred to as soba-yu (hot buckwheat water) (which will be discussed later in detail).
The most common way of serving soba is mori-soba or zaru-soba whereby one eats soba with a dipping sauce. For mori-soba and zaru-soba, after being boiled, noodles are rinsed under the cold running water to remove the viscous film on the surface and then dipped in ice water to bring out its al dente texture before being served.
(See 'Difference between zaru-soba and mori-soba' for detailed description.)
Another popular way of eating soba is kake-soba (which is a short form of 'bukkakeru' (dump soup on something) whereby soba prepared as mori-soba or zaru-soba above is warmed in hot water before being placed in a bowl and hot soup is poured over the noodles.
To enjoy its scent and smooth sensation when swallowing, it is acceptable to make noise while eating soba and, in terms of that eating manner, it is an extremely unusual food along with the likes of udon and Chinese noodles in the world.
Many of soba enthusiasts take the scent of soba seriously, particularly, during the fresh buckwheat crop season. It is said that, to fully appreciate the scent of soba, it is best to slurp it and exhale the air, which was allowed into the mouth with soba while slurping, through the nose.
Soba is made from buckwheat flour, binding agent and water.
(Some soba contains no binding agents)
Soba is called by various names including juwari-soba (or kikouchi-soba) (100% buckwheat flour), kuwari-soba (90% buckwheat and 10% binding agent), hachiwari-soba (or nihachi-soba) (80% buckwheat flour and 20% binding agent), nanawari-soba (70% buckwheat flour and 30% binding agent) and rokuwari-soba (60% buckwheat flour and 40% binding agent) depending on the ratio between buckwheat flour and binding agent such as wheat flour.
The other foodstuffs used as binding agents for soba include yam, konjac (alimentary yam paste, devil's tongue), glue plant and Synurus pungens which give distinctive texture and elasticity to soba. Soba containing glue plant is also referred to as hegi-soba.
There are additional types of soba identified by the materials for flavor such as gomakiri-soba (with black sesame seeds being added to the soba dough), norikiri-soba (with nori (dried sheets of a type of red algae) being added to the soba dough) and cha-soba (with green tea powder added to the soba dough). Some noodle shops serve soba with various seasonal vegetables such as molokheiya (Corchorus olitorius), Japanese pepper, bamboo shoots, Japanese butterbur, ashitaba (Angelica keiskei), Japanese basil, yuzu (Citrus junos), wakame seaweed and Japanese plums added to the soba dough.
These days, soba made from the rutin rich buckwheat of Tatar is available on the menu.
Buckwheat protein is essential amino acid rich with its amino acid score being ninety-two percent, having excellent nutrition value as grain.
Additionally, rutin can be mentioned as a functional element characteristic of buckwheat (or buckwheat flour).
Soba (buckwheat flour), as a food ingredient and also as processed food, has been designated as a specific raw material being a foodstuff which contains allergen in accordance with the Enforcement Regulation of the Food Sanitation Law, Schedule 5-2. Packages of soba (buckwheat flour) are required to include denotation that the content contains a specific raw material as prescribed by Chapter eleven and Chapter five of the said ordinance in the foregoing.
Symptoms appear immediately after ingesting which vary from a light headache to vomiting. In the past, there was an incident where an elementary school pupil suffocated to death when his own vomit blocked his bronchial tube after eating buckwheat noodles served for lunch at school that caused an allergy seizure. At soba and udon restaurants, as the same pot is often used to boil the both soba and udon making it possible for customers to ingest allergen, care must be taken.
It is certain that soba was imported to Japan prior to the Nara period. In "Ruiju Sandai Kaku" (Assorted regulations from Three Reigns), two pieces of Daijokanpu (official documents issued by Daijokan, Grand Council of State) dated October 5, 723 and September 6, 839, respectively, ordering the promotion of buckwheat cultivation were included. There are no records indicating that cultivation of buckwheat which was referred to as 'sobamugi' (buckwheat) ("Honzowamyo" (dictionary of medical plants) and "Wamyoruiju-sho" - Kango-Japanese Dictionary in mid Heian period) or Kuromugi (buckwheat) ("Wamyoruiju-sho") was active in those days (and, additionally, buckwheat was defined as a type of wheat in "Wamyoruiju-sho"). Additionally, there is an episode in "Kokon Chomon ju" (A Collection of Tales Heard, Past and Present) written in the Kamakura period, that Domyo (the nephew of FUJIWARA no Michinaga), who was a priest as well as a poet in the mid Heian period, composed waka poetry expressing his honest amazement at being served the humble buckwheat dish which seemed inappropriate to be on the table in front of a mountain man. It can be said that it reflected the lack of recognition of buckwheat being food among noblemen and priests who belonged to the upper crust of the capital city. It is considered that, back in those days, buckwheat was a minor grain that peasants grew on a very small scale to provide against emergency situations such as famine. Soba written with 2 kanji characters, 蕎麦 (meaning soba mugi or buckwheat) as it is today first appeared in "Shugaisho" (Compendium of fragments, attributed to Kinkata TOIN) written in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan). In "Shugaisho," there is an explanation that gasshokin (bad combination of foodstuffs) (examples of prohibited food combinations) applies to the combination between buckwheat and boar or lamb but there are no scientific grounds to support that claim.
It is said that the method of processing buckwheat flour to make noodles was conceived in the end of the sixteenth or early seventeenth century. In ancient days, to differentiate soba noodles from sobagaki (also known as sobaneri) which was also made by kneading buckwheat flour, the former was referred to as sobakiri. Today, it is commonly referred to as soba for short but the term 'sobakiri' still remains in existence in some areas.
The oldest document verifying that this sobakiri existed was the donation record at Josho-ji Temple in Suhara Okuwa Village, Kiso County, Nagano Prefecture. An entry reading 'Sobakiri, donated by 金永' in the list of oblations for the occasion to mark the completion of building renovation in early 1574 has been confirmed which, at any rate, ascertained that sobakiri existed at this point of time.
There are other opinions that the birthplace of sobakiri was elsewhere such as Motoyama-juku Station on Nakasendo Road (the present Motoyama area Soga, Shiojiri City, Nagano Prefecture) and Seiun-ji Temple in Tenmokuzan Mountain (the present Yamato-cho, Koshu City, Yamanashi Prefecture) ("Shiojiri" written by Sadakage AMANO) but, in view of the document at Josho-ji Temple as a collateral evidence, it is hard to say that sobakiri originated in either location for sure.
Starting during the early Edo period, however, there have been documented instances that, particularly, at places such as temples, sobakiri known as Terakata soba (buckwheat noodles offered in a temple) was made and served at a tea ceremony. Recipe for sobakiri, along with that for the other related food such as udon and kirimugi (cut wheat noodles) appeared in the cookbook 'Ryori Monogatari' (Cooking Story) written in 1643. Starting from Edo, sobakiri rapidly gained popularity subsequent to the mid seventeenth century and became established as part of the daily diet.
Aside from meaning buckwheat plant, 'soba' has 2 additional definitions. For one thing soba means noodles made from buckwheat flour while it is the common term for noodles and noodle dishes in general.
Soba' made from buckwheat flour
According to the 'Standard for dried buckwheat noodles' under the 'Japan Agricultural Standards (JAS) for Dried Noodles,' soba with a minimum of forty percent buckwheat flour content is rated as standard quality and that with a minimum of fifty percent buckwheat flour content is rated as superior quality. With respect to fresh noodles, 'Fair Competition Codes concerning labeling on fresh noodles' in accordance with the Act against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations have been stipulated whereby, as to products containing 'thirty percent or more buckwheat flour,' it is allowed to mark them as 'soba' (buckwheat noodles). Additionally, with regard to products containing 'fifty percent or more good-quality buckwheat flour,' it is allowed to mark them with wording such as high quality, fine, special and the other related descriptions as specified by the Fair Trade Commission. As to ingredient descriptions, it has been stipulated by the Quality Labeling Standards for Processed Foods that ingredients be listed in descending order of the amount used in the concerned product.
Soba in terms of noodles in general
As with ramen and yakisoba (fried soba), noodles are sometimes referred to as the common name 'soba' deviating from the original meaning. As a result, there are some food products in which the term 'soba' has been established even though they contain no buckwheat flour. In this case, the word 'soba' is commonly written in hiragana and kanji characters representing buckwheat (soba) are not used.
For example, if one simply mentions 'soba' in Okinawa, it is generally referred to as Okinawa-style noodles such as the famed Soki soba (Okinawa noodles made from wheat flour). Okinawa-style noodles are made from 100% wheat flour by kneading with alkaline water solution a similar method to make ramen noodles containing no buckwheat flour.
In 1976 (four years after the return of Okinawa to Japan), the Fair Trade Commission consequently raised an objection about buckwheat-free noodles being named 'Okinawa soba' and subsequently presented their opinion that those noodles not be referred to as 'soba.'
There was background, however, about the Okinawa Noodle Manufacturing Co-op negotiating with the Fair Trade Commission and, as a result, the use of the term 'Okinawa soba' was accepted as an exception. It is said that it was after the return of Okinawa when (Japanese) soba started to be commonly eaten there.
Made by kneading together wheat flour and alkaline water solution containing no buckwheat flour, yakisoba (fried noodles) is also referred to as a type of 'soba.'
When it is necessary to make distinction, noodles with buckwheat flour content are sometimes referred to as 'kuro soba' (black soba) or 'wa soba' (Japanese soba) and those with wheat flour content 'kii soba' (yellow soba) but, because 'kii soba' sounds similar to 'ki soba,' there may be some confusion.
Classification by manufacturing process
Hand-made soba refers to buckwheat noodles made by hand as opposed to those made by machine. Quality of buckwheat flour as well as the result of each process influences the scent, smooth sensation when swallowing, appearance and texture (firmness and other) affecting the taste of soba. Persons who have mastered professional skills to make soba by hand are sometimes referred to as soba chefs. Some people make soba as a hobby for the pleasure of producing quality noodles. In recent years, events to certify the soba making skill levels have been organized at various locations and soba making has become a vogue mainly among the baby-boomers.
Machine-made hand-made style noodles
Hand-made style soba made by machine
Classification by the percentage of buckwheat flour content
Juwari-soba (kikouchi-soba) (100% buckwheat flour)
Nihachi-soba (twenty percent wheat flour and eighty percent buckwheat flour)
Soto nihachi-soba (the ratio of buckwheat flour and binding agent is two to ten)
Gowari-soba (fifty percent buckwheat flour and fifty percent binding agent)
Classification by the type of buckwheat flour
When milling buckwheat berries, since the core part gets ground first, grade one flour comes out first (ichibanko) and is white and has fine scent. Sarashina-soba' is made from the grade one flour. Sarashina-soba is popular in areas including Tokyo. Since grade one flour is low in viscosity, a binding agent is often used.
Inaka-soba (country style buckwheat noodles)
Soba made from dark-colored buckwheat flour that contains ground buckwheat chaff. Inaka-soba has pronounced buckwheat scent and is eaten with a very small amount of sauce. It is popular in mountain villages in Nagano Prefecture, Aichi Prefecture and the Kinki region. Foodstuffs such as yam is used as the binding agent.
Soba of yabu line
Yabu soba is green-colored noodles made from buckwheat flour milled with green buckwheat berry chaff. 'Yabu'soba gets its vibrant green color from buckwheat berry chaff and has a pronounced scent.
Classification by buckwheat flour producing area (Japan and overseas)
Soba may be broken down by buckwheat flour producing area, region, and country whereby, in that case, buckwheat flour is identified as a product of Shinshu Kaiden Kogen, Hokkaido, North America, China and the like.
Classification by soba-making group
Fresh noodles/fresh soba
Fresh noodles (soba), cut and dusted with flour, are available in various packaging such as wrapping paper, plastic bags and plastic boxes. Fresh noodles (soba) are different from kisoba (the common buckwheat noodles served in soba shops) that will be discussed later.
Pre-boiled buckwheat noodles
Pre-boiled noodles are ready-to-eat pre-boiled fresh noodles that are sold in plastic bags. These noodles are sometimes sold in plastic containers with condiments such as green onions and wasabi, sauce or soup. Tenpura or abura-age (deep-fried bean curd) may also accompany pre-boiled noodles.
Dried noodles/dried soba
Soba which has been air-dried and cut in a uniform length is packaged and sold.
Frozen noodles/frozen soba
These noodles are frozen for a better keeping quality. It takes short period of time to boil frozen noodles. Distribution of frozen noodles is often for commercial use. These days, soba packaged for single serving is available at supermarkets and convenience stores. Some of the packaged soba is sold sets with soup.
Instant noodles/Instant soba
Instant noodles and instant soba are used in the noodles-in-a-cup group such as cup noodles, cup soba, and instant soba.
These noodles are broken down into two categories including the deep-fat fried type that has been processed to quickly develop in hot water and the non-fry type that has been cooked and hot-air dried without being deep-fat fried. There are some noodles that have been coated with seasonings.
Shin soba (new crop soba)
Buckwheat noodles made from a new crop of buckwheat berries are specifically referred to as shin soba. It is the soba equivalent of new fresh crop of rice. Characterized by the brilliant green color of chaff of the new crop of buckwheat berries, shin soba has a pronounced scent.
Kisoba (common buckwheat noodles served in buckwheat noodle shops)
Nowadays, kisoba means 'soba served at soba restaurants in general' such as nihachi soba, juwari soba, and gowari soba. That term is still in use at soba restaurants as a legacy of those days that fine quality soba was referred to as kisoba. Kisoba originally meant noodles; that were made only from buckwheat flour, and a small amount of binding agent or from buckwheat flour and a very little additive such as wheat flour. Subsequent to the middle of the Edo period, however, since nihachi soba became common, with wheat flour being introduced as a binding agent, upscale soba restaurants started to imitate using the term 'kisoba' to emphasize the good quality of their noodles. The scope of the term 'kisoba' subsequently expanded to be used in conjunction with nihachi soba by the end of the Edo period. Nowadays, the 'kisoba' labara are proudly displayed in front of cheap stand-up-eating soba noodle shops near the station that obviously seem to serve soba with a low percentage of buckwheat content diluting its purpose. Consequently, the specific term 'juwari soba' or 'kikouchi soba' is generally used at those soba restaurants specializing in noodles made only from buckwheat flour.
There are additional interpretations of 'kisoba' such as 'uncooked fresh noodles' and 'noodles with high water content such as in fresh and boiled noodles' but, such case, uncooked fresh noodles are referred to 'nama soba' (uncooked noodles) and not 'kisoba.'
Variety of soba dishes
There are hot and cold varieties and, in addition, soba dishes are broken down by various types of other ingredients that are served with soba.
Cold soba served with dipping sauce
Tenzaru-soba (cold soba served with a dipping sauce and tenpura)
Kamo seiro (buckwheat noodles on a bamboo basket served with a bowl of duck meat in soysauce-based soup on the side)
Tsuketororo-soba (buckwheat noodles served with a dipping sauce and grated toroto yam)
To enjoy the natural scent of buckwheat flour and the sensation when swallowing soba, mori soba, and zaru soba are popular options when eating soba.
Mori soba and zaru soba are made by rinsing boiled buckwheat noodles in cold water to bring out the chewy texture that will be served in seiro (steamer), a rectangular wooden or bamboo tray lined with a bamboo mat or basket. Dip a small amount of soba in the dipping sauce served in a separate dish to eat. This way of eating soba has been around longer than kake soba. Grated wasabi or daikon radish is frequently used as a condiment. Wasabi may be either mixed in the sauce or, not to diminish the flavor of wasabi, directly placed on soba. As for daikon radish, hot varieties known as karami (hot) daikon and nezumi (rat) daikon are sometimes used. In the Kansai district, a raw quail egg is mixed in the sauce.
Difference between zaru soba and mori soba
Today, distinction is made by referring to soba with nori on top as 'zaru soba,' whereas, soba with no nori on top being referred to as 'mori soba.'
The original differences between zaru soba and mori soba included the serving dishes (with zaru soba being served in a basket) and dipping sauce (with the dipping sauce for zaru soba being richer than ordinary sauce).
There are additional perspectives that there is a difference in the quality of noodles (such as the quality of buckwheat flour and variety) and that zaru soba is 'fine' while mori soba is 'average' in terms of the noodle rating.
Seiro (wooden steamer with the bottom made of reeds) is also used as a serving dish for soba but, even if soba is served in a seiro, it is still identified as zaru soba as long as there is nori on top. Similarly, if soba is served in a basket, but with no nori on top, it is identified as mori soba.
Zaru soba was originated when Iseya, a soba restaurant located near Sunosaki Benzaiten (Shrine in Fukagawa Koto Ward, Tokyo) in Fukagawa served soba in shallow bamboo baskets, it became a popular big seller. As other soba restaurants started to follow suit in Iseya's recipe, and 'zaru soba' became widespread. It was subsequent to the Meiji era that they started to put cut pieces of nori on top of cold noodles. It is therefore considered that there was no nori on top of Iseya-style zaru soba in those days, but this is yet to be confirmed.
The term 'mori' for mori soba is an antonym of 'bukkake' which is the kake soba of today.
To differentiate from 'bukkake soba' popular in the Genroku era, soba which is dipped into a sauce to eat began to be referred to as 'mori.'
Accordingly, 'mori' is not the antonym of 'zaru' in zaru soba.
Bukkake variety cold soba
Hiyashi tanuki (cold noodles with bits of tenpura batter)
Hiyashi kitsune (cold noodles with fried tofu)
Hiyashi tororo (cold noodles served with grated yam and soup)
Oroshi soba (buckwheat noodles served with grated Japanese radish on top)
Mizore Natto (cold noodles served with grated radish and fermented soybeans on top)
Hiyashi Nameko (cold noodles served with nameko mushrooms on top)
Hiyashi Katsu-soba (cold buckwheat noodles served with a slice of port cutlet on top)
It is customary to serve the above-referenced cold noodles with various toppings such as cucumber, omelet slivers, kamaboko (steamed fish paste) and wakame seaweed in addition to the respective foodstuffs that they are named after that are all arranged attractively. In that sense, it can be said that the cold noodles in the foregoing are very much like Hiyashi chuka (cold noodles served with toppings such as eggs, roast pork, bean sprouts, tomatoes, and cucumbers).
Kake soba (Su soba)
Kake soba is made by adding boiled noodles to a bowl into which hot soup is poured. As condiments, thinly sliced green onions and shichimi togarashi (a mixture of red cayenne pepper and other aromatic spices) are frequently used. Adding minced citrus peel will enhance the flavor. Kake soba is a newer way of eating noodles than Tsuke-men (dipping noodles, cooled ramen noodles dipped in the ramen soup to eat).
Tsuke soba consists of buckwheat noodles served in a basket and dipped in a warm sauce to eat. Often times, this sauce is the soup referred to as 'nuki' (meaning without soba) in which toppings are cooked in. There are various tsuke soba such as Kamo (duck) tsuke and Niku (meat) tsuke.
(There is an opinion that, although it is dipped in warm sauce to eat, tsuke soba should be classified as a cold soba dish.)
It is not a common soba dish but, in the Nagawa area of Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, there is an unusual way of eating soba known as 'Nagano-ken' (Nagano Prefecture) (see Nagano Prefecture under Regional specialty soba around the country discussed later), a shabu-shabu like hot pot in which soba is dipped to eat.
Kitsune soba (fox soba) is a bowl of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with stewed fried tofu (which is considered to be the favorite food of foxes) seasoned with sugar and soy sauce on top which is popular in the areas such as the Kanto region. In some areas, thin strips of stewed fried tofu are used as the topping.
In the areas such as the Kanto region, Tanuki soba means a bowl of noodles in hot soup with tenkasu (crunchy bits of deep-fried tempura batter produced as a byproduct of cooking tempura) on top. It is said that there are just bits of fried tenpura batter and no 'tane' (ingredients) and, in other words, 'tanuki' is a collapsed form of 'tanenuki' (without ingredients). It is also said that the fried tenpura batter is deceptively used as a substitute for tenpura and since, according to Japanese folklore, tanuki (Japanese raccoon) is known to deceive people, hence the name of the soba. In Kyoto, Tanuki soba means a bowl of soba in soup thickened with arrowroot starch topped with thinly sliced fried tofu, whereas, in Osaka, it means the soba dish which is known as Kitsune soba in the foregoing. 'Tanuki soba' as known in the Kanto region is sometimes referred to as 'Haikara soba' in the Kansai area. Since soba restaurants in the Kansai area commonly offer tenkasu, along with other free condiments, on the help-yourself basis, the specific term 'Tanuki soba' does not exist for the most part.
Tenpura is the oldest topping for soba said to have originated when tenpura such as scallop kakiage (a type of tenpura made by deep-fat frying the mixture of scallops, chopped vegetables, and the tenpura batter) was used during the mid Edo period. At soba restaurants in the city, prawn tenpura is often used as the topping for tenpura soba and tenpura is sometimes arranged like that for Tendon (tenpura on rice).
At stand-up-eating soba/udon noodle shops, it is a common practice to serve kakiage east and north of the Tokai region while tenpura made from small shrimp (less than five centimeters long) with a thick batter is used west of the Kansai area, to keep the cost down.
(In areas west of the Kansai district, soba with kakiage topping is frequently referred to as 'Kakiage soba' for the clarity and, if tenpura is made from large prawns as with the regular soba restaurants in the city, it is referred to as 'Jo tenpura soba' (superior tenpura soba), 'Ebi-ten soba' (prawn tenpura soba) and the like.)
There is a soba dish known as 'Chikuwa-ten soba' which is a bowl of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with tenpura chikuwa (fish sausage) mainly found in the Kanto area.
It is also referred to as Tennan soba (tenpura nanban) at some restaurants. In some cases, it is referred to as tenpura soba if there are two tenpura prawns and Tennan soba if there is just one tenpura prawn depending on the number of tenpura prawns on top of noodles. The term nanban came from nanban-ni meaning the cuisine in which foodstuffs imported from foreign countries such as cayenne pepper and green onions are used. It is said, however, that the difference in tenpura soba is currently determined whether or not green onions are heavily used.
Tsukimi soba (Moon soba)
Tororo soba (Yamakake soba)
Tororo soba (or Yamakake soba) is a bowl of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with the mixture of grated yam or Chinese yam with beaten egg whites on top. It is frequently served with a raw quail egg or a yolk of chicken egg dropped on top of the grated yam and egg white mixture.
Kamo Nanban (or Kamo Nanba)
Kamo Nanban is a bowl of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with the duck meat and green onions topping. Nanban means green onions and there is also an opinion that it is a corrupted form of Naniwa in Osaka City. Its birthplace is considered to be 'Sasaya' (a soba restaurant) that existed in Bakuro Cho in the Bunka era as mentioned in "Kiyushoran" (an encyclopedic book on cultures).
Torinanban is soba in hot soup with chicken meat and green onions
Nikunanban is soba in hot soup with either beef or pork and green onions on top.
Nishin soba (buckwheat noodles in hot soup with cooked herring on top)
Nishin soba, buckwheat noodles in hot soup with stewed herring on top, is available in the areas such as Kyoto City.
Harako soba, buckwheat noodles in hot soup with raw salmon roe on top, is available in the areas such as Morioka City.
Nameko soba is buckwheat noodles served with nameko mushrooms as the main topping. Other varieties of mushrooms are often used in conjunction with nameko mushrooms. Nameko soba was originally consumed in the areas like the interior regions of Yamagata Prefecture as well as the Tohoku and North Kanto areas where wild nameko mushrooms were collected. It is a dish of buckwheat noodles served with toppings including nameko mushrooms and grated daikon radish.
Sansai soba consists of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with mainly edible wild plants on top.
Okame soba was named after Okame hachimoku ('hachi' in 'hachimoku' means eight) whereby there are more toppings than Gomoku (five items). It is also said that it was called Okame soba because the toppings were arranged to simulate the face of Okame (a plain looking woman). Various toppings including kamaboko and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach) are used.
Several types of stewed vegetables are used in Shippoku soba. Nowadays in areas such as Kyoto and Kagawa Prefecture, Shippoku soba means 'Shippoku udon' (chilled udon noodles topped with various foodstuffs such as cooked shiitake mushrooms, kamaboko (steamed fish paste), yuba (dried tofu skin), ita-fu (baked gluten sheets) and mitsuba (Japanese herb)) made with soba substituting for udon. Shippoku soba originally came into existence inspired by Shippoku udon during the Kanen era in Edo and it is said to be the prototype of Okame soba. It is mentioned in the Rakugo (comic storytelling) classic 'Toki soba' but, nowadays, Shippoku soba is frequently not available at soba restaurants in the Kanto region.
Popular in areas like Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures, kenchin soba consists of buckwheat noodles served with kenchin soup made from various ingredients including pork, tofu, and vegetables. Kenchin soup is used either to dip noodles in or to pour over noodles.
Hanamaki soba consists of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with nori on top. It is considered that Hanamaki soba came into existence around 1772 to 1781. It was named by likening nori to 'flowers of the shore,' with flowers meaning hana in Japanese.
Along with 'Shippoku,' Hanamaki soba is mentioned in the Rakugo story entitled 'Tokisoba.'
As the name indicates, Wakame soba is buckwheat noodles in hot soup with wakame seaweed cut into bite-size pieces on top.
Eaten mainly in the Kansai area, Oboro soba consists of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with tororo-konbu (konbu kelp shavings) on top.
Eaten mainly in the Kansai area, Kizami soba consists of buckwheat noodles in hot soup with unseasoned aburaage (deep-fat fried tofu) cut into strips (referred to as 'kizami') on top.
Other serving suggestions
Soba zushi is a type of sushi roll made with buckwheat noodles instead of vinegar rice.
Sugomori soba consists of deep-fat fried buckwheat noodles served with thickened Japanese-style soup. It looks more like sara-udon (a Nagasaki dish of noodles with various toppings).
Soba mochi is steamed dough made by kneading together buckwheat flour and other ingredients such as young leaves of burdock with wheat flour as a binding agent. It is a type of Japanese confectionery having a texture close to that of kuzu mochi (pudding made from arrowroot powder, sugar and water) and warabi mochi (pudding made from bracken starch).
Soba manju is a bun with skin made of buckwheat flour sometimes mixed with grated yam as a binding agent.
Soba cookies (buckwheat cookies)
Cookies made from buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour.
Soba boro (buckwheat cookies)
Small cookies in the shape of balls or flowers made from buckwheat flour and the other ingredients. Soba boro was invented by a confectionery in Kyoto. Several stores have been feuding with one another claiming to be the originator of soba boro.
Soba karinto (deep-fat fried cookies made of buckwheat)
Soba karinto is made from buckwheat flour instead of wheat flour.
Soba pan (buckwheat bread)
Soba boro is made by frying a mixture consisting of five parts buckwheat flour and one part wheat flour, one egg, sugar and salt in a similar manner for making omelets.
Buckwheat soft ice cream
During the summer season, soft ice cream containing buckwheat tea with the roasting aroma of that tea is available in the Shinshu area.
Food referred to as batto, kakke, or hatto is soba dough cut into strips used in various ways like when being added to the radish or a tofu hot-pot and is also eaten with condiments such as green onions or garlic. It is a local specialty of Aomori and Iwate.
Buckwheat crepes (galette)
The local specialty of the Brittany region in France. In a heated flat pan, melt butter and add batter made by beating together buckwheat flour, milk, eggs, and beer and cook until done.
Buckwheat pancakes (blini)
A cuisine of Russia and Ukraine. Buckwheat pancakes are served with sour cream and caviar.
Fried soba noodles seasoned with sauce.
Buckwheat pasta (pizzoccheri)
Pizzoccheri is a type of pasta containing buckwheat flour.
Korean cold noodles
Buckwheat flour is sometimes used as the main ingredient.
Buckwheat kasha (porridge eaten in Eastern Europe)
Memilmuk is a cuisine of the Korean Peninsula. It is a jelly made from buckwheat starch extracted from buckwheat flour covered with water. Memilmuk is eaten with a dipping sauce or is tossed in a dressing.
Many soba restaurants offer sobayu, hot water in which soba noodles have been boiled, in yuto (lacquered pot used for pouring hot water or sake) as a beverage to accompany the tsuke-men type of soba dish. When the noodles are finished, transfer some sobayu from yuto to the dish of soba sauce to mix with the remaining sauce and drink it to finish off the meal. At many restaurants, yuto containing sobayu is brought to the table just as the customer finishes soba but there are some places where sobayu arrives with soba. Some people drink sobayu straight without mixing with soba sauce. Other people discard the remaining soba sauce and use the fresh soba sauce to mix with sobayu. Additionally, sobayu is usually not offered with hot soba dishes.
At restaurants where plenty of good water is used to boil soba, sobayu is very light, whereas, at restaurants where a smaller quantity of water is repeatedly used, sobayu tends to be thick. Since many customers prefer thick cloudy sobayu who complain if sobayu is light and thin, some restaurants actually boil the cooking liquid down or mix buckwheat flour or wheat flour in to make thick sobayu.
As soba sauce for cold noodles is too highly seasoned to drink straight, sobayu plays a role as a diluent to allow customers to enjoy the sauce.
As eating soba has become common with the booming popularity of soba in recent years, posters warning people against over consumption of salt by drinking the sauce with sobayu began to be displayed and, as a result, the number of people who drink the plain sobayu is on the rise. Consequently, the pleasure of tasting sobayu itself including the lingering flavor of soba in sobayu and the taste of cooking water (as good water is often used to boil soba at soba restaurants) became the focal point of drinking sobayu.
There is an opinion that people drink sobayu for the water soluble nutrients that have liquated out of sobayu. This explanation, however, is not logically sound considering the facts such as that cooking time for soba is extremely brief being only thirty to sixty seconds which limits the amount of the nutrients to liquate out and that rutin is water insoluble.
Some soba restaurants that have alcoholic beverages on the menu offer 'Sobayu wari' a drink made of shochu (distilled spirit) (korui - processed by continuous distillation to achieve high purity alcohol) and sobayu.
Sobaya (soba restaurants)
Most of the restaurants that serve soba usually offer either exclusively soba or nothing, but soba and udon. These places are referred to as sobaya (soba restaurants). Soba restaurant is business that has been around since the mid Edo period and it is considered cheaper and provides more volume than kaiseki (the traditional multi-coursed and often expensive Japanese dinner) and eel restaurants. In Edo where soba was popular, soba restaurants were particularly numerous and, prior to the Great Kanto Earthquake, it was common to see one or two sobaya on every block.
While the origin of the soba restaurant is unknown, there was a description of a 'Kendon Sobagiri' (which means buckwheat noodles sold per serving dish) restaurant that opened in 1664 found in two different documents including "Sanseiroku" and "Kinsei Fuzokushi" written during the late Edo period. An interdict issued by the Edo bakufu in 1686 covered an item which amounted to 'a business requiring fire to be carried around to operate such as udon or sobakiri' suggesting that portable soba stalls were already in existence in those days. These portable soba stalls were also referred to as Nihachi soba (soba noodle made from eighty percent buckwheat, and twenty percent wheat flour), Yotaka soba and Furin soba depending on time and type of operation. Soba was initially a quick light meal similar to present day fast food which has essentially remained the status of soba to date. It can also be considered that this tradition of portable soba stalls remains alive in the form of stand-up-eating soba/udon noodle shops today. It is considered that store-based soba restaurants became widespread during the latter half of the 1700's.
Meanwhile, there were some historical papers describing the upper class shying away from soba and dismissing eating soba as a lower class custom. In "Teijo Zakki" (Teijo's Notes) written by Teijo ISE, who was the expert on Yusoku-kojitsu (knowledge of court rules, ceremony, decorum and records of the past) of the Samurai class, it was documented that 'although it had been around since ancient times, since it was not to be brought out in public, the manner in which soba was eaten need not be mentioned' explaining that soba was something that the Samurai and Noble Class people ate in private. In the aforementioned "Sanseiroku," it also said that 'eating soba is custom of a lower class and while being hard up, I am still Hatamoto (a direct retainer of the shogun) and did not eat soba before but, in recent years, I finally started to eat it,' explaining that even poor Hatamoto did not stoop low enough to eat soba way back then.
Characteristics of soba restaurants include a small menu with soba being the main item and serving sake being the important aspect of the business. This tendency is particularly strong in Tokyo. Sake served at soba restaurants is referred to as 'sobamae' (before soba). Even today, comparing a soba restaurant and udon restaurant of equivalent standing class, it is common to find a larger variety of sake is available at a soba restaurant. In addition to the various soba dishes and sake, the main items on menu include nuki, the toppings of noodles that are served as tapas (such as tenpura, chicken meat, duck meat and eggs that have been discussed under 'Ten nuki'), kamaboko (steamed fish paste) or itawasa (kamaboko and wasabi), wasabi imo (grated yam and wasabi), nori, Japanese omelet, fresh ginger and miso (fermented soybeans) paste and donburi dishes such as Oyakodon (chicken and eggs cooked in sauce served over rice). Some restaurants also offer age soba, deep-fat fried boiled noodles on the menu. Age soba is eaten as tapas to accompany sake and is served as hashiyasume (a side dish served between the courses) or kawakimono (dry foods such as rice crackers, roasted nuts and dried squid that are eaten with sake).
Prior to the World War II, a soba restaurant was used for a variety of purposes in addition to being a place to eat soba. First of all, a soba restaurant was a simple and casual place for people in the neighborhood to stop in for a quick bowl of noodles on the way home from a visit to a public bath house. Meanwhile, much like a coffee shop of today, a soba restaurant was also used as a place to see a visitor that one would feel awkward to bring home or just a place to meet someone. At many of soba restaurants, the main floor is usually an open eating area with tables, whereas the upstairs is partitioned off into small private rooms used for such purposes as sensitive conferences, lovers' meetings and large gatherings.
After the war, this sort of ambiance has gradually faded, but there are still some restaurants that offer good soba and sake in hushed calmness where one can enjoy a unique atmosphere which sets them apart from other places. Buckwheat is the most protein-rich cereal with a nutritional balance equivalent to eating rice and soybeans together. Drinking sake with soba, therefore, makes good nutritional sense.
The system known as demae (delivery) is something that one cannot overlook when thinking about soba restaurants. By nature, soba does not travel well over a period of time but, in the olden days, since there were so many soba restaurants and, hence, the delivery distance was relatively short, soba was the leading delivery food. The custom of having soba delivered to entertain a visitor or to eat toshikoshi-soba (buckwheat noodles eaten on the New Year's Eve) with family goes back a long way and it has been around since the Edo period. The box-like tool called okamochi (a carrying box) was used for delivery. The shop errand boy usually delivered soba and picked up the dishes such as donburi bowls and seiro afterwards. It seems that money was collected during the second visit (when dishes were picked up) back in those days, but nowadays the bill is settled during the first visit (when the food is delivered). After the war, bicycles and motorcycles began to be commonly used with the delivery man balancing a tall stack of numerous seiro on a shoulder with one hand while holding the handlebar with the other which was the symbolic sight of soba restaurant business at one time. It subsequently became common to use delivery box carriers with motorcycles whereby acrobatic performance of the delivery man carrying a pile of seiro can no longer be seen these days.
Additionally, there are numerous stand-up-eating soba/udon noodle shops where customers eat at the counter standing or sitting down on inexpensive folding chairs. These types of soba restaurants are usually seen at railroad stations and their surrounding areas, in urban and commercial areas including business districts and at entertainment facilities such as theme parks, baseball parks and race courses.
The term 'sobaya' (soba restaurant) includes restaurants that offer both soba and udon, in addition to those specialized in soba. There are many stand-up-eating soba/udon noodle shops. Some people enjoy soba with some sake.
In the ancient days in Edo, udon was also very popular. It is said, however, that, as sobakiri gained popularity, udon began to fall out of favor subsequent to the mid Edo period. One of the factors for soba prevailing over udon in Edo was that the vitamin B1 rich buckwheat was effective in preventing beriberi referred to as the 'Edo disease' common among people often eating polished rice.
"Bakemono Oeyama" (written by Harumachi KOIKAWA), the collector's item kibyoshi (an illustrated book of popular fiction having a yellow cover) from the Anei era is a story comparing a feud between soba and udon and the extermination of Shuten Doji (the leader of a group of bandits in the Kyoto area).
This book depicted a façade of value judgments towards soba and udon by the Edo people in those days being surprisingly worthwhile as historical material
Soba played the role of MINAMOTO no Yorimitsu, whereas, udon was given the role of Shuten Doji, the villain. For some reason, 'himokawa udon' belonged to the soba camp suggesting its exceptional popularity in Edo where soba was the overwhelming favorite.
Since then, in Edo (Tokyo), eating soba even became an esteemed pursuit being sort of 'stylish.'
It ultimately acquired the status of a popular snobbish hobby to visit a soba restaurant in the early evening alone to eat soba with toppings and drink sake.
In Edo, eating soba was also described as 'taguru.'
One can say that to use such a term per se is snobbish.
In "I Am a Cat" (1905) by Soseki NATSUME, there is a passage where the posh free spirit Meitei who prided himself in being stylish boasted that udon was something a packhorse driver would eat. That passage continues with descriptions of Meitei subsequently letting himself into the house of Kushami Sensei where he ordered soba delivery and ate it by himself. Meitei eloquently lectured on the art of soba eating and swallowed soba with a condiment of hot wasabi, tears his eyes, adhering to his idea of stylishness which seemed a bit like snobbish affectation, but compared with Meitei's being a passionate stickler about soba, the impression of udon, with the dyspeptic Kushami Sensei being the 'udon lover,' seems relatively unexciting.
In "Bocchan" (1906) also by Soseki, there was a passage in which the typical Edo person Bocchan ordered a bowl of tenpura soba in Matsuyama City.
Recalling that Soseki was heavily influenced by Edo culture, it seems that the above depictions in "I Am a Cat" were in keeping with a certain stereotype that existed in Edo (Tokyo). That idea is hard to eliminate and soba remains dominant over udon in Tokyo at present. It seems that the Tokyo custom of using the highly seasoned soup made on the premise in conjunction with soba for udon stems from the idea mentioned above.
The Edo people's preferences relative to soba and the differences in relation to eating soba between Tokyo and the Kansai district are discussed below:
When eating mori soba, dip only the tip of the soba in the sauce. This is done to appreciate the flavor of the soba itself. Dipping a bit of soba in the sauce will be enough as it is highly seasoned in the Kanto region.
Soba should be swallowed without a lot of chewing to enjoy the sensation of soba going down the throat and the scent of buckwheat flour.
It is unsophisticated to serve a large amount of soba in a big bowl. If the portion is small, it is alright to eat two or three servings.
Disposable wooden chopsticks are used. The slippery lacquered chopsticks are not popular.
Unless drinking sake, it is more stylish to eat promptly and leave the restaurant.
'Taguru' (to pull in or to draw in) means to eat soba.
It does not mean that this term is proper.
Due to the degree of importance attached to the stylishness, a great deal of obstinate and vain rhetoric is suggested in the term 'taguru.'
The leading area for soba in the Kansai district is Izushi-cho, Toyooka City, Hyogo Prefecture (Izushi-jo Castle town) and its 'Izushi soba' served on a plate is well-known. When Masaaki SENGOKU, the lord of the Ueda Domain in Shinshu, which was the major soba producing area in the Edo period, transferred to the Izushi Domain, he brought many soba chefs along to his new territory and it is considered that the Izushi soba tradition began. While it is uncertain whether it is attributable to the background above, there are many restaurants that serve soba from every region of the country in addition to those produced in the local areas such as Izushi and Shinoyama City in Hyogo Prefecture.
There are many long-established soba restaurants in Kyoto. It is due to the fact that soba was actively cultivated in the adjacent Tanba region. Additionally, the celebrated nishin soba (a bowl of soba in hot soup served with stewed herring on top) developed during the end of the Edo period was inspired by 'kelp roll with herring' which had long been a side dish in Kyoto. As with Osaka, udon tends to be more popular in Kyoto on the whole but, unlike Osaka, virtually no soba restaurant serves udon in Kyoto.
In Osaka, it is considered that generally udon is preferred over soba which is completely opposite of the situation in Tokyo. In Osaka, there is a strong notion that udon restaurants are offering soba to address the needs of users and there are some soba restaurants serving udon. The clear, light-colored soy sauce-based soup essentially intended for udon is often used. Osaka, however, developed its own soba culture, with Tanuki (noodles) (soba in hot soup with cooked fried tofu on top) and Kobu soba with kelp shavings on top originating in that city. Additionally, due possibly to the locality, soba made from whole buckwheat flour referred to as black soba and country-style soba tend to be preferred.
Soba in rural Japan.
In rural Japan, sobakiri was a traditional food prepared to welcome guests. Even in rural areas where buckwheat was cultivated by slash-and-burn farming, sobakiri was recognized as a treat for special occasions such as holidays, New Year's and when having company. While not professionally trained, everyone knew how to make soba and when visitors came, the host or hostess made soba for them.
Soba was served as mori soba with dipping sauce of either clear soup in which julienne vegetables such as carrots and shiitake mushrooms were cooked or miso soup. To cut down the amount of buckwheat, daikon radish cut into matchsticks (not as a condiment) and boiled wild spring vegetables such as Japanese parsley were sometimes mixed with the noodles.
On the other hand, sobagaki, very easy to make, was something one regularly ate when working out in the fields. Other ways of eating soba included dango (balls) as with other minor cereals and mixing buckwheat flour into the vegetable stew.
Due to the fact that a self-supporting life style has become virtually non-existent and eating soba in urban fashion has become widespread, the way of eating soba which once had the distinct characteristic of each region is on the brink of obsolesce today.
Regional specialty soba around the country
Since buckwheat grows even in poor soil, it has been actively cultivated in mountainous areas and newly developed land from as far north as Hokkaido and as far south as Kagoshima in Kyushu.
For soba restaurants including those well-known/long-established, stand-up-eating soba noodle shops and soba noodle chains around the country, see also the respective topic.
Tsugaru soba (Tsugaru Region)
Tsugaru soba originally meant the soba made by a labor-intensive manner using soybeans as the binding agent. Due to the extra time and effort required, the number of soba chefs and shops that make Tsugaru soba has subsequently decreased whereby it has become common to refer to the ordinary soba eaten in the Tsugaru region as Tsugaru soba.
Natsuida soba (Aomori City)
Shirakami soba (Nishimeya Village)
Wanko soba (Morioka City)
Ishikawa soba (Happo-cho)
Nishimonai soba (Ugo-machi)
Ita soba (Yamagata Prefecture interior)
Benibana soba (Murayama Region)
Soba with safflower being added.
Cold soba with meat (Yachi, Kahoku-cho, Yamagata Prefecture)
Soba served with thinly sliced chicken.
Yamagata soba (Yamagata City)
Soon after soba restaurants emerged in Edo, the art of soba making was introduced into and was established in Yamagata whereby buckwheat noodles became part of the regular diet in that area. In 'Travel Diary of Sora' written by Basho MATSUO, the author gave an account of eating soba in Dewa sanzan (Three mountains of Dewa).
Tendo soba (Tendo City)
Hand-made noodles are the local resource of the area and dried noodles are also being produced.
Tachi soba (cut buckwheat noodles) (Aizu Region)
With no binding agents being used, the dough of Tachi soba is very easy to break making it difficult to fold and, as a result, the dough was rolled out into thin pieces. These pieces are subsequently stacked in several to a dozen layers to be cut and, hence, became referred to as Tachi (cut) soba.
Bandai soba (Bandai-machi and Inawashiro-machi)
Bandai soba consists of buckwheat noodles made from the local buckwheat flour and water from natural springs in the western foot of Mt Bandai that has been designated as one of the 100 Best Natural Waters in Japan. In 2007, for the purpose of improving name recognition of Bandai soba and regional vitalization, 'The thirteenth Japanese Soba Exhibition in Aizu-Bandai' was held in Bandai-machi.
Yamato soba (Yamato-machi, Kitakata City, Fukushima Prefecture)
Since the area is well known for the Miyako District, Yamato soba is also referred to as Miyako soba. Yamato soba is made only from the local buckwheat flour and river-bed water with no binding agents and the area is also making a strong effort in the soba-making workshop. Prior to being amalgamated to become a part of Kitakata City, Yamato-machi built a large refrigerated warehouse to store soba.
Takato soba (buckwheat noodles of Ouchijuku, Shimogo-machi in South Aizu region)
See 'Takato soba' of Ina City, Nagano Prefecture.
Hinoemata soba (Hinoemata-mura)
Soba made in Hinoemata (such as 'Tachi soba' mentioned above) is referred to as Hinoemata soba.
Kanasago soba (buckwheat noodles of Kanasago in Hitachiota City)
The Kanasago area (formerly Kanasago-machi) of Hitachiota City is the birthplace of 'Hitachiaki buckwheat,' the recommended variety of Ibaraki Prefecture and the old name for the town has been Revived as the brand name for locally grown buckwheat (Registered Trademark 4873108).
Imaichi soba and Nikko soba (Nikko City)
The Imaichi district (formerly Imaichi City) of Nikko City has long been producing buckwheat with its climate and terrain being suitable for growing that crop. As for soba restaurants, some are old establishments while the other are new comers that have opened as local resources for the regional economic development project and, as part of the revitalization plan, the Nikko Soba Festival is organized in the fall.
Izuru soba (Tochigi City)
'Bonzaru soba,' developed on the locally-grown and locally-consumed principle is the main item.
Senba soba (Senba district in Sano City)
Senba soba was developed on the locally-grown and locally-consumed principle in the Senba district of Sano City (formerly Kuzu-machi).
Okayashiki soba (Isezaki City)
Okayashiki Buckwheat Production Cooperative is responsible for growing, processing (producing buckwheat flour and fresh soba from the local buckwheat) and sales of buckwheat. In the fall, Okayashiki Buckwheat Production Cooperative organizes 'Soba-no-sato Hana Matsuri' (Flower Festival of the Home of Soba).
Chichibu soba (Chichibu Region, Saitama Prefecture)
Since ancient times, this area has been suitable for growing buckwheat and soba used to be made at home for special occasions such as holidays and when entertaining company. In recent years, however, the tradition of soba making has been taken over by soba restaurants as home-made soba began a downward trend which continues to be the situation today.
Jinbei soba (around the Inbanuma area of Chiba Prefecture)
Jubei soba was named after the ferryman who drowned himself in Inbanuma subsequent to rowing the boat for the man of righteousness Sogo SAKURA by violating prohibition when Sakura went to Edo to make a direct plea to the Shogunate.
Jindaiji soba (Chofu City and Mitaka City, Tokyo)
During the Genroku era (from 1688 to 1703), sobakiri was presented to Monk Imperial Prince Koben, the chief priest of Toeizan Kanei-ji Temple of the Tendai winning plaudits from the same. Sobakiri consequently gained name recognition becoming popular among the general public afterwards.
Tororo soba (buckwheat noodles served with grated yam on top) (Mt. Takao, Hachioji City, Tokyo)
It is said that tororo soba originated during the Taisho period, when a restaurant at the foot of Mt. Takao served buckwheat noodles with the grated yam topping to boost energy of worshippers who were on their way up to the temple on the mountain-top. As a local resource for the regional economic development project, 'Takaosan Fuyu Soba Campaign' (Mt. Takao Winter Soba Festival) had been organized by the Fuyu Soba Campaign steering committee every winter (the sixth session as of 2008).
Arare soba (Tokyo)
Arare soba consists of buckwheat noodles in hot soup served with arch shell ligaments on top. At some restaurants, kakiage (deep-fat fried tenpura batter mixed with chopped vegetables and seafood) made of arch shell ligaments is served on noodles.
Hadano no soba (Hadano City)
Buckwheat is grown as an off-season crop in the tobacco fields near Hadano City which is the top buckwheat producing area in Kanagawa Prefecture. Hadano no soba has been selected as one of the New Best 100 Local Specialty Products of Kanagawa and there are various brands of buckwheat noodles such as "Tanzawa soba" which emerged after World War II.
Hegi soba, Funori soba and Tokamachi soba (Tokamachi City and Ojiya City)
In these areas, a glue plant is used in buckwheat noodles as the binding agent and in addition to fresh noodles, dried noodles are produced. A locally-grown and locally-consumed movement is encouraged and workshops for soba making are available.
Shirauo soba (Sadogashima Island)
Buckwheat noodles served with shirauo (ice fish) on top.
Osaki soba (Sadogashima Island)
Osaki soba consists of buckwheat noodles made of 100% stone-ground local buckwheat flour served with soup made from flying fish stock. Osaki Soba Festival was created based on the idea to make and eat real good tasting soba in 1978, is an event fostering regional vitalization where people can sample local specialty food items and enjoy the traditional performing arts of the Osaki area. This event has been organized annually between the mid November and early December since its inaugural year.
Toga soba (Nanto City)
Toga soba was originally made from 100% buckwheat flour and eggs as the binding agent but, since it broke easily and its texture was not to everyone's liking, each soba restaurant in the area has been making noodles based on their own individual recipes in recent years. In winter, 'Nanto City Toga Soba Festival' is organized.
Monzen soba (buckwheat noodles of Wajima City)
Soba made from buckwheat flour produced in Noto Peninsula and wild yam as the binding agent.
Torigoe soba (buckwheat noodles of Hakusan City)
Torigoe soba is made from buckwheat flour produced in the Torigoe district of Hakusan City. In the fall of every year, 'Torigoe Soba Flower Festival' and 'New Crop Torigoe Soba Festival' are organized.
Echizen soba (Fukui Prefecture)
Echizen soba is eaten dipped in sauce made with grated hot daikon radish and soy sauce.
Imajo soba (buckwheat noodles of Minami Echizen-cho)
Ono soba (buckwheat noodles of Ono City)
Togakushi soba (Togakushi, Nagano City)
Kori soba (Hokushin region)
Gyoja soba (Togakushi, Nagano City)
In the early Nara period, while training on Mt. Komagatake in Kiso, Enno Ozunu (a legendary holy man noted for his practice of mountain asceticism during the second half of the seventh century) received cordial hospitality from residents of Uchi no Kaya, the village along one of trails up the mountain. It is said that, as a gesture of thanks, Enno Ozunu gave the village people some buckwheat seed which was the origin of buckwheat grown in the area. Gyoja soba is served with sauce made by blending roasted miso (fermented soybean paste) in stock to which the grated hot daikon radish and green onion have been added. As part of training, ascetic monks observed abstention from the five main cereals or all grains but since this requirement did not apply to buckwheat and since buckwheat berries and buckwheat flour could be eaten uncooked, these items were regularly food for those trainee monks.
Tomikura soba (buckwheat noodles of Tomikura in Iiyama City) (Hokushin Region)
Kaida soba (Kaida Kogen, Kiso-machi)
Due to its climate conditions characterized by cool temperatures and frequent fog in early mornings and evenings suitable for buckwheat cultivation, buckwheat has been grown in this area since ancient times. Kaida soba is made from local buckwheat flour. Sunki soba, buckwheat noodles served with sunki (Nozawana, cole preserved in salt) and dried bonito shavings on top, is available in the winter season.
Kirishita soba (one of the buckwheat noodles of Togakushi) (Hokushin Region)
With respect to 'Kirishita soba,' in the narrow sense, it is a type of it means buckwheat produced in the foggy area where there is a large temperature difference between morning and night in the Togakushi region, buckwheat flour made from the buckwheat, and buckwheat noodles made from buckwheat flour. On the other hand, in a broad sense, it means good quality buckwheat grown in the Togakushi region, buckwheat flour made from Togakushi-grown buckwheat and buckwheat noodles made from that buckwheat flour. Kirishita soba sometimes also means 'Kaida soba' (buckwheat noodles of Kaida plateau in Kisomachi) which satisfies the similar conditions of the former.
Zenkoji soba (Nagano City)
Zenkoji soba in large part means soba restaurants around omote-sando (front approach) of Zenko-ji Temple and the soba that they serve. When using the term 'Zenkoji soba' in conjunction with a product, it is necessary to obtain permission (by authority) from Zenko-ji Temple Executive Office as well as to pay the royalty to use the Zenkoji brand.
Takato soba (buckwheat noodles of Ouchijuku in South Aizu region) (Ina City, Nagano Prefecture)
Since Masayuki HOSHINA, the founding lord of the Aizu-Matsudaira family, was reportedly a big soba lover and since the Aizu clan had a very close relationship with the Takato clan of Shinano Province for more than twenty years, soba was eaten with the miso-seasoned 'karatsuyu' (salty sauce) (made from miso, grated daikon radish and green onions) in this area. Later on, when Masayuki HOSHINA was promoted to a high-ranking daimyo figure (Japanese feudal lord) of the Aizu Domain in Mutsu Province with 230,000 goku (of rice, with one koku being 180.39 liters), 'karatsuyu' soba was introduced to the Aizu region and became known as 'Takato soba' after its birthplace. That term 'Takato soba,' subsequently traveled from Aizu to the Takato area where 'karatsuyu soba' became also known as 'Takato soba' and, on the contrary, the soy sauce-based sauce made of rich stock was referred to as 'amatsuyu' (sweet sauce).
Nowadays, Takato soba of Fukushima Prefecture is well known as the specialty food of Ouchi-juku in Shimogo-machi, Minami Aizu-gun, Fukushima Prefecture. It is the characteristic of this area that, instead of chopsticks, the accompaniment of green onions are used when eating Takato soba.
Motoyama soba (buckwheat noodles of Shiojiri City)
Motoyama-juku Station is referred to as the birthplace of sobakiri because of the passage in 'Honcho monzen (Fuzoku monzen)' published in 1706 which read, "Originating from Motoyama-juku Station in Shinano Province, sobakiri has become very popular nationwide." Additionally, there is an existing record that, on July 20, 1670, sobakiri was served to a feudal lord who stayed at the army headquarters in Motoyama-juku Station. In this region, due in part to the tradition of passing down the art of soba making for generations at each household, there were no soba restaurants for a long time but, in recent years, some soba eateries were started by Motoyama Teuchi-Soba Shinkokai (Promotion Society for Motoyama Hand-Made Buckwheat Noodles).
As to the birth of sobakiri in Japan, however, since there is a historical document predating 1706, some contradict the opinion that Motoyama soba was original.
Toji soba (Nagawa-mura, Matsumoto City)
Toji soba has been a tradition in the former Nagawa-mura around Nomugi-toge in Shinshu. It is a lot like shabu-shabu. Much like Tsukemen (dipping noodles) with ramen, noodles and soup are served separately. To eat, dip (tojite) noodles in the soup to warm up and to pick up the flavor of the soup. The soup is generally served in a pot set on a burner to keep it hot. To eat, noodles are transferred into a special basket which are then be dipped into the soup in the pot mentioned above. The term Toji soba came from the manner in which soba is eaten whereby the noodles are dipped (or 'tojiru' in Japanese) in the soup. Additionally, some say that 投汁そば (Toji soba) was the etymology of Toji soba but the former has become a registered trade name. There is also an opinion that when visitors came, as was done with Wanko soba, the host kept filling the basket with soba for his guests until they were full and, hence, Toji soba was born.
Cha soba (tea noodles) (made in the central and western Shizuoka Prefecture)
Cha soba is made by adding green tea powder to the buckwheat flour mixture.
Tenryu soba (buckwheat noodles of Sakuma-cho, Hamamatsu City)
The name 'atsumori' is a pun, meaning; 'noodles steamed in a steamer,' 'thick pile' or 'hot mori-soba.'
Hiyoshi soba (buckwheat noodles of Otsu City)
The local specialty of Sakamoto (Otsu City). It is said that Hiyoshi soba originated from the soba restaurant 'Tsuruki Soba' founded by Kihachi TSURUYA in Sakamoto in the Kyoho era during the Edo period. In his work 'Kaido-o-yuku,' there is a passage describing that Ryotaro SHIBA came to visit 'Tsuruki Soba' near Hiyoshi-taisha Shrine but, by mistake, he went to another soba restaurant by the name of 'Hiyoshi Soba,' (unrelated to the soba-chain restaurant of the identical name) instead.
Hakodate soba (the buckwheat noodles offered in the shops near Mt. Hakodate) and Imazu soba (Takashima City)
Hakodate soba and Imazu soba are made from buckwheat flour processed from buckwheat locally grown at farms scattered around the foot of Mt. Hakodate.
Inukanno soba (Kameoka City)
In 1997, soba made on the Inukanno plateau area won the Japan Noodle Association President Award for its excellent quality. Additionally, there is soba made from locally produced buckwheat flour with yam grown in Kameoka as the binding agent.
Izushi Soba (buckwheat noodles eaten in Izushi-cho of Hyogo Prefecture) (Izuishi, Toyooka City)
Eitakuji soba (the buckwheat noodles of Sanda City)
Eitakuji soba consists of buckwheat noodles available in and around Eitakuji area. Strong efforts are being made to foster soba workshops and a 'Soba Festival' intended to elevate the interest level towards soba that is organized annually in the fall.
Kojinnosato soba and Kasa soba (the buckwheat noodles of Sakurai City)
As this area has the proper conditions for growing buckwheat and to utilize the increased farm land as part of the national comprehensive agricultural land development project, buckwheat cultivation began in 1992 and, as a consequence, soba restaurants started to open.
Takano soba (Hashimoto City and Ito-gun)
JA-Kihoku Kawakami (Japan Agriculture Kihoku Kawakami) and Wakayama Prefectural Agricultural College have been leading the way to promote Takano soba as the new local specialty product in the Ito district.
Hiruzen soba (the buckwheat noodles of Hiruzen plateau of Maniwa City)
Buckwheat has long been cultivated on the Hiruzen Plateau and, while its popularity significantly declined for a period of time, thanks to the health boom and the other related interests, the number of crops is taking an upturn.
Toyohira soba (Kitahiroshima Town)
Due in part to the fact that the Toyohira district (formerly Toyohira-cho - Hiroshima Prefecture) of Kitahiroshima-cho had the proper conditions to grow buckwheat, the crop descended from the Izumi soba buckwheat was cultivated on the small scale. In 1987, as part of the regional development, the town hall staff of the time, farming families and town people, with the then mayor of Toyohira-cho and agricultural cooperative taking the lead, started activities related to the Edo style white buckwheat noodles by newly bringing in the Sarashina variety as a flagship item for the economic development projects in the area. Those involved trained with the master soba chef living in Yamanashi in those days to learn the various skills and key requisites of soba making. The regional development of the area has continued to take advantage of these skills and knowledge whereby the Toyohira district became known as one of the foremost producing areas of buckwheat and the local crop is being processed in that region.
At the same time, however, securing the future generation of soba makers has become a challenge and, as a measure to address the situation, the region has been taking various actions such as; implementing the 'Grade Certification System for Toyohira Soba Makers,' designed to teach the soba-making skills and manners, at Toyohira Donguri-mura Road Station and cultivating the new variety of buckwheat 'Toyomusume.'
Izumo soba (the buckwheat noodles of Izumo Province)
Warigo soba (the buckwheat noodles of Izumo region)
A small quantity of soba is served in the layered lacquerware to which condiments and soup is added before the noodles are eaten.
Kamaage soba (the buckwheat noodles of Izumo region)
Sanbe soba (the buckwheat noodles of the foothills of Mt. Sanbe)
The soil around the base on Mt. Sanbe is suitable for growing buckwheat which became active when ginseng farming began in that area in 1773 and the area residents started to eat soba on from time to time. Sanbe soba became widely known due to some circumstances, for example, that it was introduced on the menu at the community bathhouse in Sanbe Hot Springs that opened in March 1877 and when the Sanbe Highlands became the Army Exercise Area in the late Meiji period whereby it was eaten by the soldiers there. With the abundant food supplies and aging farming population, in the early 1960's, cultivation of soba declined but, in 1984, 'Kuichi Soba no Kai' (Kuichi Soba Society) was formed by volunteers with an intent to revive Sanbe soba based on the idea of local consumption of locally produced products whereby soba farming and processing were brought back to life. In 1986, with implementation of a rural development project designed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Kuichi Soba no Kai was reorganized as the Sanbe Noodle Manufacturing Association with the newly constructed processing plant as it business base and, thus, that association is playing a key role in the buckwheat industry of the area. Sanbe soba is often eaten as Warigo (served in the 3-layered round lacquer ware bowls), Kamaage (served in a pot or bowl of hot water, in which the noodles have been boiled, with a dish of dipping sauce) and Yamakake (served with grated yam on top). The condiments include wasabi, bonito shavings, nori and green onions (but no daikon radish).
Oki soba (the buckwheat noodles of Oki region)
The shorter and thicker Oki soba is made from 100% buckwheat flour with no binding agent. Oki soba is served with soup made from grilled mackerel or flying fish and condiments such as the Oki nori, yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit), sesame seed and green onion (but no daikon radish). In Oki, soba is eaten on occasion and there are some elements of soba making in the choreography of the dance for the Oki minyo (folk song) 'Dossari-bushi' (also known as the 'Dance of Soba Maker').
Kawara soba (the buckwheat noodles of Toyoura-cho in Yamaguchi Prefecture)
Iya soba (the buckwheat noodles of Nishiiyayama-son of Miyoshi City)
Climate in the Iya region is suitable for growing buckwheat with a wide range of temperatures and frequent fog. In the old days, this area was a hidden village of Heike no Ochudo (fugitives from the Genpei War) where buckwheat, their staple food, was cultivated by hidden agriculture. Since none or very little binding agent is used, Iya soba easily falls apart. It is characteristically thick and has a pronounced scent. Sobamai and Sobamai zosui (buckwheat porridge) are the local specialties of the Iya region made from dechaffed buckwheat berries in place of rice.
Tachikawa soba (the buckwheat noodles of Otoyo-cho)
The characteristic of Tachikawa soba is that none or a very small amount of binding agent is added to buckwheat flour.
Benjo soba (the buckwheat noodles of Fukuchi-cho Town)
In 1996, the Fukuchi-machi Comprehensive Agricultural Project was inaugurated with the objective to revitalize the area by farming and, during that project, soba attracted sufficient interest to start full-scale soba farming since 2001, in the area. In the meantime, 'Soba no Hana Festa' (the Buckwheat Flower Festa) designed to revitalize agriculture and the region with major attractions including buckwheat flower viewing and hand-made soba workshop has been organized every year.
Mitsuze soba (the buckwheat noodles of Saga City)
In 1990, the first soba restaurant opened in Mitsuse-mura Village. Within approximately 3 years, this soba restaurant became established and, through word of mouth, it gained recognition attracting many returning customers.
As a result, other soba restaurants have opened one after another in recent years whereby this area has become a new landmark being referred to as the 'Soba Highway.'
Aso-soba (Aso City)
Noodle business is flourishing in various locations including Namino-son and Minami-Aso-mura in the Aso area where soba is being made and soba cuisine is being offered.
Shintomi soba (the buckwheat noodles of Shintomi-cho)
Around 1988, farmers who had been growing the local variety of buckwheat and those who had been growing buckwheat in paddy fields during the off-season got together to begin consultation activities and a full-scale buckwheat farming consequently started to spread but the crop yields have been small.
Shiba soba (buckwheat noodles of Shiba-mura, Miyazaki Prefecture)
One of the local specialties of Shiba-mura.
Osuki soba (buckwheat noodles of Kaya City)
Since a large amount of yam is added to the soba dough as a binding agent, noodles remain elastic and do not to break easily even when they are cut very thin.
Satsuma soba (Kagoshima City)
Satsuma soba contains yam as the binding agent which gives noodles an elastic texture. Satsuma-age (deep-fat fried fish paste) is served on top of the noodles and some foodstuff such as green onions and peel of local oranges are used as condiments.
Okinawa soba/Soki soba summary
(Okinawa soba/Soki soba which contains no buckwheat flour is made throughout Okinawa Prefecture.)
Soba of the world
There are various countries including France, Italy, China, Korean Peninsula (including South Korea and North Korea), Bhutan and Nepal where buckwheat is processed to make noodles for food
The method of making noodles, however, varies by country or region. For example, noodles used in Korean style cold noodles are made by being forced through small holes of the special equipment, whereas, Italy's pizzoccheri is formed by rolling pins. Some soba is made into balls or sausages instead of being formed into noodles. Additionally, as for the cooking method, soba is grilled and not boiled in some areas. It can be said that the so-called Japan's sobakiri is also as distinctive as soba cooking of the other countries mentioned above.