One food item that you definitely want to try when in Japan is "soba." It has long been considered to be lucky food and eaten at various events. Here are some fun facts about soba that may make your eating experience even more enjoyable.
What is Japanese-style soba?
In Japan today, "soba" (buckwheat) usually means the noodle, "soba-kiri." Long ago, soba was cooked as porridge, but once milling technology made its way to Japan, it was replaced by "sobagaki" (a dough of soba flour and water heated and kneaded) and "soba dango" (balls of cooked sobagaki). "Sobakiri," which is soba flour kneaded with water, rolled out, and cut into noodles, appeared sometime in the mid-Edo period (1603 - 1867).
Soba noodles are eaten in a variety of ways, such as by dipping them cold into sauces with condiments such as negi scallions and wasabi, or warm in soups with dashi stock. They are often enjoyed with toppings such as tempura and wild vegetables.
Soba is Full of Nutrients!
Soba has more protein than white rice and wheat flour. It has plenty of balanced essential acids, which is indispensable for human life. It also has B vitamins, which are said to prevent heart diseases, as well as rutin, a type of polyphenol that prevents lifestyle diseases such as heart diseases, arteriosclerosis and high blood pressure. Soba also has fiber and Vitamin E.
Don't Forget the Soba Water!
"Sobayu" is the water that the soba was cooked in, and is full of the vitamins from the soba! Sobayu is usually served with "zarusoba" and "morisoba," so when you are done eating the noodles, you can add the sobayu to the remaining sauce and drink it. The umami flavors of the soba have seeped into the water, so you can enjoy the soba taste and get the vitamins as well.
What Is the Difference Between White and Dark Soba?
The color of noodles may be white or dark, depending on the restaurant. The difference is due to the type of soba flour used. The white soba noodles are made by grinding the middle of the buckwheat, while the darker noodles are made by grinding both the inner part and the outer layer.
White soba noodles are characterized by their sweet flavor. The whitest flour is made by grinding just the middle of the soba seeds and is called "ichibanko." Soba made with ichibanko is called "sarashina soba." The dark flour made by grinding the entire seed is characterized by a strong aroma. Soba noodles made with the dark flour are called "inaka soba."
Soba-related Customs in Japan
Eating soba is a part of the custom of various annual events in Japan. Most of these customs started in the Edo period (1603 - 1867), and are still practiced today.
Toshikoshi soba is the custom followed by many of eating soba noodles on New Year's Eve to wish for happiness in the next year. There are various reasons behind the practice, such as "to wish for a long life, as represented in the long noodles," and "to cut off any bad luck from the previous year, as represented in soba noodles that can be cut easily."
Soba eaten on Setsubun, on February 3, is called Setsubun soba. Setsubun is the last day of the year in Japan's old calendar, so historically, Setsubun soba was eaten as toshikoshi soba. This custom was followed by many people until the early Meiji period (1868 - 1911), when the old calendar was still followed, but is still practiced today in some regions.
Hikkoshi (Moving) Soba
Historically, hikkoshi soba meant to give soba to new neighbors when moving, to express that you hope to have a long relationship with them, and to indicate that you have moved nearby (osoba). The custom has changed today into eating soba on the day that one moves.
Hina soba is eaten on Hinamatsuri (March 3), a festival to pray for girls to grow up healthy. During the Edo period, soba was put out as an offering to pray for "long extension of family fortune and life" and eaten when the Hina dolls were put away. Today, Hina arare crackers and hishimochi sweets are usually put out as offerings, but the practice of putting out soba remains in some regions.
Why Do Many Soba Shops have "An" Suffixes?
Many soba restaurants in Japan have "an" at the end of their names. The reason goes back to the Edo period. Shooin, a temple in Asakusa at the time, had an "an" (a small house where recluses and monks live) called Doko-an. The soba made by the head of this an and served to his parishioners was hugely popular, and as a result, many soba restaurants began adding "an" to their names.
The more you know about soba, the more there is to know. The noodle texture, flavors, and aroma varies by restaurant, so you should try a variety.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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