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Sep 4, 2008 10:37 AM

Soba [Split from Manhattan board]

somewhat off-topic, but can someone explain soba to me? I feel cretin-ish, yet I just don't get it.

I've been to all the soba houses in the city, and it's good, but not that good. Frankly, i much prefer a good udon or ramen to soba. So, can someone explain to me what i'm looking for? It doesn't seem to have much taste, the texture is kind of ok (not like a ramen or proper udon, which has a nice spring to it).

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  1. Soba noodles are firmer and nuttier than rice, egg, and wheat noodles. The more buckwheat (what "soba" actually means) the nuttier, better, and more distinct they taste. Most are made with some rice or wheat flour to keep together. These binders make the noodles taste blander or at least more generic. Good "tsuyu" or soba dipping sauce, can take soba to higher heights, but it is essentially a simple food based on texture more than flavor. That said, I personally find soba to have a much more distinct flavor than ramen and udon noodles. And I like the firm texture with chilled dipping sauce on a hot summer day- for lunch at least.

    Just a side note- I once ordered miso ramen from a shop in Manhattan and was served miso soup in chicken broth with soba noodles. Obviously, prepared by a cretin.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Silverjay

      Ouch, miso soup with chicken broth and soba.... I can make that at home.
      Silverjay, perhaps you can explain why traditional Japanese ramen shops in kanji are in some instances translated as chuka soba (Chinese noodles) which seem to have nothing to do with buckwheat noodles?

      Agreed, teuichi soba (hand made) from scratch done with a proper buckwheat milling piece of equipment, just cannot be beat and has a slurpalicious texture. Healthy and best of all very light on the lips and hips (unlike the dried kind). Definitely day vs night difference. The byproduct liquid from the process (soba-yu) which I have yet to try, is full of nutrients as well. I've only had the pleasure of having this at a Japanese restaurant in Oahu (Yabusoba) which is now under new ownership and a different name (and I hear membership only).

      There are places in Japan that take the serving of soba further (not talking about makisushi rolls with soba noodles inside). Tsuyu is a standard way of eating soba noodles with, but in some soba specialist shops in Kyoto for example, you could theoretically have it served two to three way. One of which might be soba with grated mountain yam (yamaimo) and raw egg on top, and another might have katsuobushi (shaved dried bonito) with something else (be it sauce or scallions etc).

      1. re: K K

        Actually, those variations have nothing to do with Kyoto really. They are pretty standard. There are many more. Regions or towns serve it different ways. Tempura or slices of duck meat are often served with soba in hot soup.

        Nothing special about soba-yu. Just adds something hot and slightly viscous to the tare.

        Soba is originally a Tokyo area dish dating back to the Edo Era. And the word started to take on a generic meaning of noodles after a while (it can be written in kanji or hiragana). When early ramen shops opened at the beginning of the 20th century, they found it easy to introduce the dish as "Chinese Soba".

        1. re: Silverjay

          i think it's the nuttiness that i just haven't taken the time to notice. because texture wise i much prefer udon / ramen's springiness. I'll have to give it another shot. the soba-yu was something else that i guess is also an acquired taste of sorts.

          but miso ramen with soba noodles is very funny... thanks for the insight.

        2. re: K K

          Well, there are historians who state that the soba also came from Japan from China, just like ramen noodles. Soba noodles are supposed to be made with buckwheat noodles, not sure if that's still the case as I also don't eat soba nearly as often as udon or ramen.

          Similarly, the Korean naeng-myeon also derived from the same source which is the Chinese style cold-noodle. But eventually the Chinese more or less moved on with all the other types of noodles and they're not as common or well preserved as the Japanese soba or Korean naeng-myeon.

      2. I think you do "get it" as far as the limited height restaurant soba can achieve, which is to say, it's an approximation when compared to the full experience from stone-grinding the groats to actually sitting down to eat, all in a continuous time.

        Soba-yu that you get from the full experience is also more than just starch water, but again, it's not something you can get from restaurants.

        I would say, don't give up. Save a spot for the real soba experience in your mind, just don't expect to find it in a restaurant. If you feel that you SHOULD get it, but you don't? It means there's better.

        Here's a link to a blog that talks fresh soba in Canada:

        In that link there's another link to the required "San-Tate" condition for a worthy soba experience. I myself can attest to the difference in having even just one of the condition lost : I've started to make soba from scratch this year, grinding the groats with a traditional stone Quern manually (and yes, the slowness of the rotation is a must for good buckwheat flour), making and cutting the dough, cooking and eating the noodles...one step after another. The few times when I've made too much and refridgerated some leftover I find that the noodle texture changes slightly, and the slurp-ablility is reduced the second day, even if the first two conditions were met.

        Lastly, I hesitate to say this, but, there's something to be said about physically interacting with the production of your food that puts you in the center of the eating experience where you are not busy judging, or criticizing, but just right there eating as is. It's a different place.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HLing


          I realize I may be missing something that is evident, but school's back in session and I don't have time to search; have you a soba-from-scratch recipe that you can share? (Preferably a vegetarian version without eggs or dairy but if yours includes those things that's ok too as I can probably work out a substitution.)

          Thanks for the elucidation on the subject! I've been wanting soba ever since watching Bourdain slurping them down with such gusto a couple of weeks back.

        2. They're buckwheat, and therfore have a specific flavour. I loved them the first time I tried them.. I love a good chewy/springy noodle, and udon is wonderful (reminds me of a german spetzle) and love ramen but Soba are just different, they cook really quick they're just a thing of their own.