Soba (そば or 蕎麦) (//, Japanese pronunciation: [soba]) is the Japanese name for buckwheat. It usually refers to thin noodles made from buckwheat flour, or a combination of buckwheat and wheat flours (Nagano soba). They contrast to thick wheat noodles, called udon. Soba noodles are served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup.
|Place of origin||Japan|
|Serving temperature||Hot, cold|
In Japan, soba noodles can be found in a variety of settings, from "fast food" places to expensive specialty restaurants. Markets sell dried noodles and men-tsuyu, or instant noodle broth, to make home preparation easy. There are a wide variety of dishes, both hot for winter and cold for summer, using these noodles.
Soba can nutritionally complement other grains like white rice and wheat flour. Thiamine, missing from white rice, is present in soba. Soba contains all eight essential amino acids, including lysine, which is lacking in wheat flour. The tradition of eating soba arose in the Edo period.
Variety of plantEdit
History of soba in Japan, development of eateriesEdit
The tradition of eating soba originates from the Tokugawa period, also called the Edo period, from 1603 to 1868. In the Tokugawa era, every neighborhood had one or two soba establishments, many also serving sake, which functioned much like modern cafes where locals would stop for a casual meal. At that time, the population of Edo (Tokyo), being considerably wealthier than the rural poor, were more susceptible to beriberi due to their high consumption of white rice, which is low in thiamine. It was discovered that beriberi could be prevented by regularly eating thiamine-rich soba.
Some establishments, especially cheaper and more casual ones, may serve both soba and udon as they are often served in a similar manner. Soba is the traditional noodle of choice for Tokyoites.
Soba is typically eaten with chopsticks, and in Japan, it is considered acceptable to slurp the noodles noisily. This is especially common with hot noodles, as drawing up the noodles quickly into the mouth helps cool them. However, quiet consumption of noodles is no longer uncommon.
Common soba dishesEdit
Like many Japanese noodles, soba noodles are often served drained and chilled in the summer, and hot in the winter with a soy-based dashi broth. Extra toppings can be added to both hot and cold soba. Toppings are chosen to reflect the seasons and to balance with other ingredients. Most toppings are added without much cooking, although some are deep-fried. Most of these dishes may also be prepared with udon.
Cold soba dishesEdit
Chilled soba is often served on a sieve-like bamboo tray called a zaru, sometimes garnished with bits of dried nori seaweed, with a dipping sauce known as soba tsuyu on the side. The tsuyu is made of a strong mixture of dashi, sweetened soy sauce (also called "satōjōyu") and mirin. Using chopsticks, the diner picks up a small amount of soba from the tray and dips it in the cold tsuyu before eating it. Wasabi and scallions are often mixed into the tsuyu. Many people think that the best way to experience the unique texture of hand-made soba noodles is to eat them cold, since letting them soak in hot broth changes their consistency. After the noodles are eaten, many people enjoy drinking the water in which the noodles were cooked (sobayu 蕎麦湯), mixed with the leftover tsuyu.
- Mori soba (盛り蕎麦): Basic chilled soba noodles served on a flat basket or a plate.
- Zaru soba (笊蕎麦): Mori soba topped with shredded nori seaweed.
- Hadaka soba (naked soba 裸蕎麦): Cold soba served on its own.
- Hiyashi soba (冷やし蕎麦): Cold soba served with various toppings sprinkled on top, after which the broth is poured on by the diner. It may include:
- Soba maki: Cold soba wrapped in nori and prepared as makizushi.
- Soba salad: Cold soba mixed in the sesame dressing with vegetables. It is more of a modern and fusion cold soba dish served outside Japan.
Hot soba dishesEdit
Soba is also often served as a noodle soup in a bowl of hot tsuyu. The hot tsuyu in this instance is thinner than that used as a dipping sauce for chilled soba. Popular garnishes are sliced long onion and shichimi tōgarashi (mixed chili powder).
- Kake soba 掛け蕎麦: Hot soba in broth topped with thinly sliced scallion, and perhaps a slice of kamaboko (fish cake).
- Kitsune soba きつね蕎麦 ("fox soba", in Kantō) or たぬき蕎麦 Tanuki soba ("raccoon dog soba", in Kansai): Topped with aburaage (deep-fried tofu).
- Tanuki soba (in Kantō) or Haikara soba ハイカラ蕎麦 (in Kansai): Topped with tenkasu (bits of deep-fried tempura batter).
- Tempura soba 天麩羅蕎麦: Topped with tempura, a large shrimp frequently is used, but vegetables are also popular. Some of soba venders use kakiage for this dish and this often is called Tensoba.
- Tsukimi soba 月見蕎麦 ("moon-viewing soba"): Topped with raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup.
- Tororo soba とろろ蕎麦 or Yamakake soba 山かけ蕎麦: Topped with tororo, the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a mucilaginous texture).
- Wakame soba 若布蕎麦: Topped with wakame seaweed
- Nameko soba なめこ蕎麦: Topped with nameko mushroom
- Sansai soba 山菜蕎麦 ("mountain vegetables soba"): Topped with sansai, or wild vegetables such as warabi, zenmai and takenoko (bamboo shoots).
- Kamonanban 鴨南蛮: Topped with duck meat and negi.
- Currynanban カレー南蛮: Hot soba (or udon) noodles in curry flavored broth topped with chicken/pork and thinly sliced scallion.
- Nishin soba 鰊(にしん)蕎麦: Topped with migaki nishin 身欠きニシン, or dried fish of the Pacific herring.
- Sobagaki 蕎麦掻き: A chunk of dough made of buckwheat flour and hot water.
Soba served on special occasionsEdit
Soba is traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve in most areas of Japan, a tradition that survives to this day (Toshikoshi soba; English: from one year to another). In the Tokyo area, there is also a tradition of giving out soba to new neighbors after a house move (Hikkoshi soba), although this practice is now rare.
Nutritional value of sobaEdit
Soba contains a type of polysaccharide that is easily digested. Soba noodles also contain antioxidants, including rutin and quercetin, and essential nutrients including choline, thiamine and riboflavin.
Varieties of soba noodles and types of soba in JapanEdit
Buckwheat is ready for harvest in three months, allowing four crops a year, mainly in spring, summer, and autumn. In Japan, buckwheat is produced mainly in Hokkaido. Soba that is made with newly harvested buckwheat is called "shin-soba". It is sweeter and more flavorful than regular soba.
Nagano Prefecture is famous for soba. The noodles are known as Shinshu Soba. One of the reasons for this popularity is that Nagano has natural features well-suited to soba production. The land has plenty of volcanic ash soil because of its highland location. It also has an extreme difference in temperatures. Many famous soba production centers can be found across the prefecture, from the Kurohime and Togakushi highlands in the north to the Kaida highlands in the south, and the prefecture boasts the second-highest production of soba in Japan. Many facilities are also engaged in integrated soba manufacturing, from cultivation to milling and cutting. Many of these facilities provide soba cutting courses for customers, forming one of the major leisure activities of Nagano.  Soba noodles are produced by mixing buckwheat flour with some wheat flour (to reduce brittleness), adding water, mixing, kneading, rolling and cutting. As a general rule, only noodles containing 40% or more soba flour can carry the Shinshu name. 
- Etanbetsu soba: named after the central region of Hokkaidō (Asahikawacity);
- Izumo soba: named after Izumo in Shimane;
- Izushi soba: named after Izushi in Hyōgo;
- Shinshu soba: named after the old name of Nagano Prefecture. Also known as Shinano soba. (Shinano=Shinshu).
- Cha soba: flavored with green tea powder;
- Hegi soba: flavored with seaweed;
- Inaka soba: "country soba", thick soba made with whole buckwheat;
- Jinenjo soba: flavored with wild yam flour;
- Mugi soba: flavored with mugwort;
- Ni-hachi soba: soba containing 20% wheat and 80% buckwheat;
- Sarashina soba: thin, light-colored soba, made with refined buckwheat;
- Towari soba or Juwari soba: 100% buckwheat soba.
Other uses of the word sobaEdit
Soba is also the Japanese word for buckwheat. Roasted buckwheat kernels may be made into a grain tea called sobacha, which may be served hot or cold. Buckwheat hulls, or sobakawa (also called sobagara), are used to fill pillows. Sometimes, beers are made with roasted buckwheat added as a flavoring, and called "soba ale".
Soba is occasionally used to refer to noodles in general. In Japan, ramen is traditionally called chūka soba (中華そば) or, before the end of the Second World War, shina soba (支那そば). Both of these mean "Chinese noodles", though the word shina was replaced by chūka because the Chinese considered the former term offensive. Parboiled chūka soba is stir-fried to make yakisoba. The name ramen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese lamian (拉麺). Note that these noodles do not contain buckwheat. In this context, 'soba' noodles proper are called nihon soba (日本蕎麦, 'Japanese soba') as opposed to chūka soba.
In Okinawa, soba usually refers to Okinawa soba, a completely different dish of noodles made out of flour, not buckwheat. Okinawa soba is also quite popular in the city of Campo Grande (Brazil), due to influence of Japanese (Okinawan) immigrants. It is eaten at street markets or in special restaurants called "sobarias".
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Soba.|
- Tokyo soba chef making noodles by hand from scratch—illustrated article in English
- Soba restaurant owner in Nagano making soba noodles—slide show with English subtitles
- Cook makes homemade soba noodles—video with English and Japanese subtitles