Ramen and udon may have their charms, but when it comes to artistry there’s no question that soba is the noodle numero uno. Soba is so revered for its elegance and refinement that the widely circulated video of soba master Tatsuru Rai making noodles at Rene Redzepi’s MAD food conference in Copenhagen in 2014 became essential viewing for discriminating foodies and was hailed as ‘soba porn’. All that rolling and slapping seemed to make a mark...
Strip away the virtuosity and finesse and soba are simply noodles made from buckwheat flour. While buckwheat has been cultivated in Japan since ancient times, it is believed that soba was only invented in the late 16th or early 17th century. Soba masters in Japan continue to make them by hand to this day, with the most dedicated artisans using only 100 percent buckwheat flour. Since buckwheat is notoriously stubborn to work with, some chefs have resorted to cutting their noodles with wheat flour.
As you’ll discover below, there are many iterations of soba noodles. To truly appreciate the craft, you should eat the noodles in their purest form, either with just a dipping sauce or in a simple hot broth. Pay attention to the texture, look out for the slight nuttiness, and savour the earthy taste of the buckwheat. Hardcore soba fans insist that slurping and swallowing the noodles without chewing is the most sophisticated way to enjoy the dish. Each to their own, we say.
Also see: The best soba restaurants in Tokyo.