Mention Japanese noodles, and the first thing that often comes to mind is ramen noodles. However, that is slowly changing, with diners, especially the health-conscious bunch, becoming more discerning about what they eat. While ramen is generally high in sodium, calories and saturated fat, soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat flour, is the exact opposite.
Healthy, light and refreshing, soba noodles, which are usually thin and grey-brown in colour, are also gluten-free, which makes it a great alternative for those with gluten allergies but love eating noodles. The dried, uncooked version looks similar to spaghetti – long and straight.
Most local supermarkets sell two kinds of soba: Ju-wari soba and Hachi-wari soba. The former, which is made of 100% buckwheat flour, has a dry and rough texture, while the latter, which is made from 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour, is much smoother and has an al dente texture. For those who are gluten intolerant, be sure to check the ingredients on the label before purchasing.
Some Japanese supermarkets and grocery stores might also stock green or pink soba noodles. The former, which is cha soba (green tea soba), is flavoured with green tea powder, while the latter is ume soba (ume plum soba), is flavoured with Japanese ume plum.
Health Benefits Of Buckwheat Soba Noodles
Buckwheat flour, which is the base for soba noodles, is a good source of nutrients like protein, fiber, iron, carbohydrates and thiamine. According to experts, buckwheat soba noodles are also a great source of manganese – a cup of cooked soba noodles reportedly offers as much as 426 micrograms, which contributes 19 percent towards the daily manganese needs for men and 24 percent for women.
Manganese, which makes up a component of several enzymes, including those required to convert food into energy and antioxidant enzymes, is essential for ensuring proper functioning of the thyroid gland, regulation of blood sugar level, healthy bone health, metabolism of fats and carbohydrates, and many more.
Ways To Enjoy Soba Noodles
There are many ways to enjoy this healthy and versatile Japanese noodle – one can have in hot, served in soup, or they can opt to have in cold, with a tsuyu dipping broth. Here’s a look at the different ways of eating this well-loved noodles.
Also known as cold soba noodles served with tsuyu dipping sauce, the name of the dish (zaru means bamboo tray) was derived from the way the noodles are served – over a bamboo tray. Light and refreshing, zaru soba is the perfect dish for those looking to enjoy their favourite noodles despite the summer heat. The tsuyu dipping sauce is usually made with soy sauce and dashi, and garnished with condiments like freshly grated wasabi, daikon radish and sliced spring onions.
This dish, which can be enjoyed either hot or cold, although most prefer to have it hot, is simply soba noodles topped with a thin sheet of aburaage (fried tofu). And no, kitsune does not represent tofu, rather it means fox in Japanese. According to folklore, fox spirits are fond of fried tofu, hence the name.
As its name suggests, kake soba, which is hot soba noodles served in broth, is simply soba noodles served in a hot, flavourful broth. The simplest of all hot soba dishes, the broth of this dish is made from soy sauce, sweet sake and dried bonito.
An extremely hearty and comforting dish, tempura soba can also be enjoyed either hot or cold, although the former, which consists of soba noodles served in a mild broth of dashi and soy sauce, topped with pieces of seafood and vegetable tempura, is a more popular option. The cold version, on the other hand, is usually served with a side of dipping soup that the noodles and tempura should be dipped in before eating.
A popular summer soba dish in Japan, oroshi soba is simply chilled soba noodles topped with grated daikon radish and served with cold mentsuyu sauce poured over it. Unlike zaru soba, a variety of toppings can also be added to this dish including dried bonito flakes and leek.
Loosely translated as “moon watching” soba noodles, Tsukimi soba, which is usually eaten during autumn festivals, is usually served in a hot broth, and topped with a raw egg yolk and nori. The raw egg yolk, which poaches in the hot broth, is said to resemble the moon.
Renowned Soba Master from Japan Osamu Tagata shares his thoughts on soba…
The secret to making good soba noodles is…
There is no one secret to making good soba noodles, but rather I would say it is a combination of many aspects during the noodle-making process. While the dough kneading technique would be one crucial factor, the balance and type of ingredients, such as the quality of flour and even the water added, is equally important. It is also helpful to keep checking on the aroma to ensure that the ‘nutty’ flavour of fresh buckwheat flour is strong throughout.
How many ways are there to enjoy soba noodles?
Plenty! Soba noodles are delicious consumed on their own or with a light sprinkle of salt. While they pair interestingly with sashimi, they provide a refreshing contrast to fried foods like tempura as well. And of course, they are delicious served cold and dipped in tsuyu (soba dipping sauce). They can also be enjoyed hot in dashi broth with your choice of ingredients.
The best way to enjoy soba noodles…
Simplicity is actually the beauty of soba noodles, in both their taste and how they are made. Therefore I prefer to have them plain as that’s when you get to savour the purest and even the subtlest flavours of the noodles at their freshest. If you do however decide to have it with broth or sauce, there is no better way than to slurp it such that the condiment travels up with the noodles, while also enjoying the aroma as you chew. I certainly hope that all in Singapore enjoys soba as much as Japanese does.