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How to Eat Soba (Hint: Slurp)

How to Eat Soba (Hint: Slurp)

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You might think noodles are easy to eat, but to really slurp them loudly, it takes skill

Jessica Chou

While many of us may have perfected the art of the pasta twirl, making eating spaghetti on a date a cinch, eating soba and other Japanese noodles is a whole other ball game.

Hazuki Homma of New York soba shop Cocoron demonstrates how to properly eat soba, a Japanese dish of buckwheat noodles and broth. The noodles and soup are sometimes served separately and sometimes together in one bowl. In this case, the buckwheat noodles came with a side of hot soup, so diners dip the noodles into the soup for flavor, slurp it up, and then drink the soup with some soba-yu, or the water used to cook the soba.

"Buckwheat is very, very sensitive," Homma told The Daily Meal, "So we encourage people to eat soba noodles as quickly as possible, otherwise it will stick together or the noodles will get soggy."

Soba can be served hot or cold (the latter being the perfect dish for summer days), and soba noodles are traditionally served on New Year's Eve. "Soba is a very long noodle, so it’s for longevity, and also it’s very nutritious," Homma explained. As for the slurping? It's polite, Homma said, and lets the chef know that you're enjoying their dish. So make your inner 5-year-old proud.

Slurp-tastic Herb Noodles Recipe

I suppose I had what most people would call a stay-cation last week in nearby Marin County. My assignment was simple - take care of your sister's two dogs. Friends find this mildly amusing, because although I generally like dogs, I don't own one, and Heather's dogs aren't exactly petite. I'll just mention that one is a Bernese Mountain Dog and leave it at that. I settled into her house, made sure the dogs had plenty to eat, and used it as home base while she was in the UK. For those of you unfamiliar with Marin, most of it sits just north of the fog-bank that drapes itself over San Francisco each summer. Temperatures peaked in the 90s while I was there, and when I wasn't tossing squeaky toys to my two canine friends, I was exploring some of the nearby sites. This big, slurpy bowl of whisper-thin spinach noodles draped in a spicy curry and herb broth was inspired by a beautiful box of noodles I picked up in Mill Valley.

While walking around Mill Valley, I stumbled into Tyler Florence's new shop - yes, you know him, the guy from the Food Network! He lives in this area. His shop is called Tyler Florence West Coast Kitchen Essentials - it's sort of like Williams-Sonoma but infused with the slightest hint of Anthropologie, and let's say 5% generic country kitchen. There were a couple unexpected details and quirks that I'd love to see more of. For example, stacks of vintage Gourmet magazines you can take to the back of the store and browse while sitting in the cozy library cookbook alcove. You can't buy them though (I tried!). He also stocks adorable, handmade kitchen aprons and textiles by Ambatalia / The Fabric Society. This one came in a kids size, and although I rummaged through the shelves looking for an adult-sized version, it wasn't meant to be. There was a wall of various food products - oils, spices, vanilla and the like. I spotted a box of lovely, light, Cipriani spinach tagliolini and quickly grabbed a box. You see half of it here in today's recipe coupled with a selection of herbs that were congregating in my refrigerator door (again), and a nice jolt of curry paste.

In case you find yourself in that zip-code, and before you make your way to the recipe, here are a few other places worth mentioning. I spent my mornings at Emporio Rulli in Larkspur. There is one guy pulling shots who is particularly on point. If I lived in that area I'd have to ask him his work schedule is. Wayne came over on the ferry one day and we had fantastic Neopolitan-style pizza that night at Pizzeria Picco - and no, we couldn't resist the olive-oil drizzled soft serve with sea salt. And to counterbalance all that - I took a couple tough (but great) classes at The Dailey Method, conveniently located just up the street from Pizzeria Picco.

We ate this the first night back. You could certainly add broccoli for a bit of colorful crunch, and nutritional boost. Cauliflower might be good too.

Other favorite noodle recipes include: this incredible vegan ramen, my favorite pad thai, sriracha rainbow noodle salad, and black sesame otsu. Pasta with Smashed Zucchini Cream is also really good, or browse this list of tasty noodle soups!

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22 Asian Noodle Recipes for Slurp-able Deliciousness

Todd Coleman

Fresh Soba Noodles

Fresh buckwheat noodles are a staple of Japanese cuisine, second only to rice as the most consumed grain in that country. Here, Sonoko Sakai, author of Rice Craft, shares her technique for making soba from scratch. Get the recipe for Fresh Soba Noodles »

Cold Soba with Mushroom and Leek Seiro Broth

For this deconstructed noodle soup, dip cold noodles into the hot broth, then slurp them quickly—the technique preserves the integrity of the tender, fresh noodles. Get the recipe for Cold Soba with Mushroom and Leek Seiro Broth »

Philippine Noodle Stir-Fry (Pancit Bihon)

“Eating this dish makes me feel like I’m at home. It’s my mom’s specialty, and I remember helping her prep this as a child. It is served at every party [my family throws] and is eaten on its own for merianda, the Filipino equivalent of British Tea.” – Leah Cohen of Pig & Khao Get the recipe for Philippine Noodle Stir-Fry (Pancit Bihon) »

Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodles (Jaengban Guksu)

Don’t be fooled by the vegetable-heavy spread this dish is sure to fill you up. A medley of thinly sliced vegetables is piled up with a mound of cold buckwheat noodles. They’re dressed with a slurpable spicy and savory gochujang sauce that makes for a Korean take on a chef’s salad. Get the recipe for Korean Cold Buckwheat Noodles (Jaengban Guksu) »

Sweet and Sticky Roasted Pork with Sesame Noodles

Sweet and Sticky Roasted Pork with Sesame Noodles

Soba Salad with Lemon-Miso Vinaigrette

This refreshing salad of soba noodles tossed with winter greens and mixed vegetables is brought together by a tart dressing of miso, ginger juice, and lemon. Get the recipe for Soba Salad with Lemon-Miso Vinaigrette »

Soba Noodle Salad with Miso and Grilled Prawns

A miso marinade doubles as a dressing for a flavorful salad composed of watercress, scallions, and soba noodles. Get the recipe for Soba Noodle Salad with Miso and Grilled Prawns »

Soba Salad with Marinated Cucumber and Ponzu

Soba Salad with Marinated Cucumber and Ponzu

Springy Pad Thai with Green Garlic, Asparagus, and Peas

Green garlic, asparagus, and peas brighten this classic Thai street dish with springtime flavors. Out of season, you can substitute scallions for the green garlic. Get the recipe for Springy Pad Thai with Green Garlic, Asparagus, and Peas »

Sho’ Nuff Noodles

We first fell in love with these lightly spicy lo mein noodles when chef Marcus Samuelsson dropped by our kitchen to test drive some recipes for his Harlem restaurant, Streetbird Rotisserie. Laced with oyster sauce, ginger, and yuzu kosho and tossed with pickled mustard greens, the dish is a medley of sweet, tangy, spicy, and sour. Get the recipe for Sho’ Nuff Noodles »

Sesame and Chile Ramen (Tantanmen)

Toasted sesame oil and hot chile oil spice up this porky ramen. Get the recipe for Sesame and Chile Ramen (Tantanmen) »

Stir-Fried Breakfast Noodles

Any Chinese noodle—rice, wheat, flat, thin, or broad—can be used in this simple stir-fry from author Francis Lam it’s one of his favorite breakfast dishes. Get the recipe for Stir-Fried Breakfast Noodles »

Korean Noodles with Beef and Vegetables (Chap Chae)

Korean Noodles with Beef and Vegetables (Chap Chae)

Danny Bowien’s Hanoi-Style Breakfast Pho

Danny Bowien’s Hanoi-Style Breakfast Pho »

Noodles in Dashi with Miso-Coated Pork Belly

Red miso paste, more fermented than its blond counterparts, adds piquancy to pork belly cooked with brown sugar, mirin, and sesame seeds.

Sesame Noodles

A garnish of chopped peanuts and slivered cucumber and carrot add crunch to the silky, savory Chinese-American noodle dish. Get the recipe for Sesame Noodles »

Vietnamese Pork Meatball and Noodle Salad (Bun Cha)

Vietnamese Pork Meatball and Noodle Salad (Bun Cha)

Hot Soba with Chicken and Egg

Is there ever a bad time for soba noodles? Definitely not. Get the Recipe for Hainanese Rice Noodle Soup with Pork and Pickled Bamboo (Bau Luo Noodles) »

[Soba Noodles with Shiitake and Mushrooms]](/article/recipes/soba-noodles-with-wasabi-and-shiitake-mushrooms)

In this simple noodle dish, crisp wasabi stalks add texture, while the tender, chewy leaves are a complex substitute for bitter greens.

Pork Noodle Soup with Shrimp Paste (La Paz Batchoy)

A regional soup packed with egg noodles and pig parts, La Paz batchoy was born in the La Paz district of Iloilo city, in the province where chef Dale Talde’s mother was born. Talde’s version streamlines the traditional recipe, keeps the liver and intestines optional, and applies just enough shrimp paste to keep things funky. Get the recipe for Pork Noodle Soup with Shrimp Paste (La Paz Batchoy) »

Chilled Soba Noodles With Two Sauces

The classic zarusoba (cold soba) is served with a dipping sauce, grated daikon radish, wasabi and scallions. Nothing more. It is simple and straightforward.

To eat the noodles, combine the condiments and stir with chopsticks. Dip the noodles about a third of the way into the dipping sauce with your chopsticks and then slurp. This might take a little practice the idea is not to overwhelm the noodles with the sauce. After you have finished the noodles, you can dilute the dipping sauce with sobayu, the nourishing cooking broth of the noodles, and drink it like a soup. This is a ritual practiced at soba noodle shops.

When nuts are in season, I add them to the dipping sauce. Try using other ground nuts or seeds such as pecans, peanuts or sesame seeds.

The dashi recipe below uses a combination of three umami-packed ingredients. It is versatile and can easily be made vegan by omitting the bonito flakes and adding an extra dried shiitake mushroom. Make sure to save your hydrated kombu and shiitake mushrooms, as you can reuse them to make a second batch of dashi.

20 Dinner Recipes That Have Ramen Noodles as a Main Ingredient

Try one of these quick and easy (and impressive) meals tonight.

These easy recipes will bring your ramen noodles to the next level.

This easy recipe is ready in just 10 minutes. It's fresh, tangy and the peanuts lend a nice little crunch.

These noodles are simmered with delicious coconut milk, carrots, onion, snow peas and shrimp. Lime juice adds a nice, tart kick.

Basic ramen noodles are transformed into a hearty South Asian dish by tossing them in a dressing of light coconut milk, creamy peanut butter and lime juice along with seedless cucumber, scallions and large shrimp.

This warming, brothy soup makes for a filling meal, thanks to a combination of beef meatballs, broccoli, sugar snap peas and ramen noodles spiced with flavors of garlic, ginger, soy and sesame.

These Gingery Soba Noodles May Just Defy Definition

For Yotam Ottolenghi, all food is comfort food. But this quick-to-prepare dish is especially sustaining.

LONDON — Comfort food is hard to pin down.

It’s as slippery as noodles, with any attempt to characterize it often countered by an exception.

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the type of food that people eat when they are sad or worried, often sweet food or food that people ate as children.”

I connect with the nostalgia part and love sweet things, but I tend to reject the idea that comfort food must fill a sad- or worried-shaped hole.

To me, all food is comfort food: Do we ever set out to make food that discomforts? It’s true that the past year has seen a focus on food’s particular ability to provide solace amid so much uncertainty. Slippery though noodles can be, then, it’s interesting to ponder why noodles — so simple, so basic, so every day — have such an ability to nurture, sustain and, indeed, comfort.

Is comfort food about ease? In Thai cooking, it’s less about how food makes people feel than about its ease: dishes that are quick to make, untaxing, gentle on the day. And you can find this in any cuisine, of course. These are the pasta and noodle dishes, the daals and soups: things that come to life with little more than boiling water, hot stock or broth.

Is it to do with texture? Is it the feeling of noodles as we eat them? Does that explain the appeal of smooth soups or hummus? Or the lure of rice: light on one hand, reassuringly starchy on the other?

Or is it defined by food group? Do carbohydrates comfort more than others? Is that what makes noodles — and pasta, potatoes and bread — so enticing? Does the same hold true of fat and dairy?

Or is it how (and where) we eat it? From a bowl, with chopsticks, by hand? Is the link between a bowl of hot soup and a tub of cold ice cream that both are eaten with a spoon, cross-legged on the sofa? Is that why some people love to eat in bed?

Or is it to do with memory? If one kid’s happy place is a baked potato with melted cheese, and the next kid’s is lentils and rice or chicken soup, does that make the whole notion of defining comfort food nonsense?

For all the ways to define comfort food, the dictionary definition is the one I’d push back on. Why is comfort food associated with sadness or some kind of lack or guilt? Why is the tub of ice cream we fall into on a Friday night seen as a substitute for the real hugs we’ve all been missing? Can’t we just love it because it’s delicious, easy and there?

I don’t like Champagne (no guilt!), but I do love this quote from Lily Bollinger, of Bollinger Champagnes: “I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad.”

“Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone,” she said. “When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it — unless I’m thirsty.”

I feel the same way about food! I eat when I’m happy, and when I’m sad. Sometimes I eat when I’m alone. When I have company, it’s a must. I snack when I’m peckish and feast when I have an appetite. Otherwise I can go without — unless I’m hungry.

And, when it’s a weeknight and I want to easily make something from what I have in my cupboards, this kind of noodle dish, inspired by some Japanese ingredients I have in my cupboard, is what I prepare. It ticks all the boxes. Sustaining, slippery noodles, cooked in broth and eaten from a bowl with chopsticks or a spoon (or a slurp, if I am alone): tick, tick, tick, tick. The chicken stock and fresh cilantro remind me of the food I was nurtured with as a kid, and that I now pass on to my own children: tick.

I can eat it alone or share it with friends, asking them, as I ladle out the broth, what their definition of comfort food is.

25 Slurp-Worthy Soba Noodle Recipes

Meet our newest culinary obsession: soba noodles. We order up these lovely buckwheat flour noodz every chance we get, whether they’re chilled and tossed in chili dressing or swimming in hot + aromatic broths. But instead of heading to our favorite Japanese restaurant to get our soba fix, we’re thinking we should start making our own at home. We’re imagining bok choy soba noodle bowls, lemongrass soba soup and maybe even some soba with cumin pork. Let’s start sampling, shall we?

1. Soba Noodles With Lemony Kale Pesto: Kale, lemon, Parmesan, and pine nuts are the reasons why this soba recipe packs a punch. Add some protein by mixing in a handful of grilled prawns. (via Fork Knife Swoon)

2. Tofu Soba Noodles: Even meat lovers will dig this sesame tofu soba bowl. (via Damn Delicious)

3. Sesame-Ginger and Cucumber Soba Noodles: These noodz are tossed in a light sesame-ginger-tahini sauce and finished with slices of crisp English cucumbers. (via Cookie + Kate)

4. Cold Soba Noodles With Shrimp: Cold soba is just as delish as hot soba, especially when it’s served with a rice vinegar, mirin, and soy dipping sauce. (via Lonny)

5. Hoisin Caramelized Salmon With Sesame Soba: Salmon + soba is a heavenly and nutrient-packed combo. (via Half Baked Harvest)

6. Shiitake Bok Choy Soba Noodle Bowl: Here’s yet another killer vegetarian recipe to add to your arsenal. Thanks to those shiitakes, you won’t even miss the meat. (via A House in the Hills)

7. Soba With Spicy Cumin Pork: We might start adding this spicy cumin pork to everything. (via Lemons for Lulu)

8. Soba Noodle Salad With Chicken and Chili Oil: We would never stick our noses up at this lovely salad! (via How Sweet It is)

9. Miso-Roasted Asparagus Soba Noodle Salad: Roasted asparagus, black sesame, fresh ginger… these are only a few of the amazing ingredients in this soba noodle salad. (via The Kitchn)

10. Green Tea Soba Noodles: This vegan green tea bowl is packed with roasted veggies and topped with peanuts and raisins. (via This Rawsome Vegan Life)

11. Peanut Soba Spring Rolls: Who says soba noodles only belong in a bowl? Wrap up those noodz with avocado, mint, basil, and mushrooms in thin rice paper, and start mixing up that ponzo sauce to create these killer spring rolls! (via Love + Lemons)

12. Ginger Citrus Soba With Snow Peas: Citrusy soba garnished with snow peas makes for a light and bright dinner or a deletable lunch you’ll proudly brownbag to work. (via Love + Lemons)

13. Swiss Chard and Soba Soup With Poached Egg: We’re a bunch o’ suckers for anything with a poached egg on top. (via In Sock Monkey Slippers)

14. Soba With Sweet Onions and Fried Egg: This yummy soba dish requires only eight ingredients! We’re all about easy cooking, especially later in the week. (via Buzzfeed)

15. Lemongrass Coconut Vegan Soup: This lemongrass noodle soup will cure any cold you’ve caught. Inhale those aromatics slowly and deeply. (via Earthy Feast)

17. Smoke Salmon Soba Bowl: We thought the ideal setting for smoked salmon was on a bagel topped with red onions, tomatoes, cream cheese… the works. But we’ve discovered it’s delicious atop some soba noodles as well! (via Snixy Kitchen)

19. Coconut Soba With Peas: These noodz are made with coconut oil, coconut milk, and lots of lemongrass. And don’t forget the fresh cilantro! (via Bev Cooks)

20. Soba Noodles With Roasted Tomatoes, Mushrooms, and Eggs: This dish almost feels Italian thanks to those roasted tomatoes and baby bella mushrooms. (via Cookie Monster Cooking)

21. Steak and Soba Stir Fry: Either flank or skirt steak will work with this steak + soba recipe. And we’re excited to introduce some bok choy into our diets, too! (via Bon Appetit)

22. Sesame Soba Noodles: This simple yet *very* tasty soba noodle recipe showcases the authentic taste of sesame seeds. You can also beef it up by adding in some fresh greens or a hard-boiled egg to make it even MORE flavorful. (via Damn Delicious)

23. Rainbow Soba Noodle Salad: You know how they say you should eat all the colors of the rainbow in order to get a full spectrum of dietary nutrients? This salad makes it east. It combines delicious soba noodles with healthful, colorful veggies like carrots, cabbage, edamame, lime juice, and ginger. (via Noming Thru Life)

24. 20-Minute Spicy Thai Noodle Bowl: Thai noodles are already freakin’ fantastic, but this recipe only takes 20 minutes to make. We’re calling that a win-win situation. (via Life Made Simple)

25. Teriyaki Chicken Noodle Bowl: It doesn’t get much yummier than teriyaki chicken, but ordering in can be expensive and, well, not the healthiest. Whip this perennial favorite up at home for a cheaper and fresher alternative. (via Damn Delicious)

Which soba noodle dish are you craving right about now? Tell us in the comments!

Soba as Street Food

Many busy Edoites purchased and consumed their soba at food stands, or from mobile “night hawkers” who carried their wares about on shoulder poles. To be sure, there were also some upscale soba shops where high-ranking samurai and other relatively well-heeled patrons could gather to eat at their leisure. But at heart, soba was street food for the common folk. (It was also the street vendors of the Edo period who popularized two foods now virtually synonymous with Japanese cuisine: sushi and tempura. They, too, got their real start as street food that busy townspeople could buy and eat on the go.)

Of course, by the Edo period, the Japanese people already had a well-developed table etiquette, not so different from that observed today. Eating noisily, as one might suppose, was considered bad manners. But as Horii points out, “this was the food of the common folk, so they didn’t worry too much about formal table manners.”

Moreover, street stands were by nature places where people dashed in to grab a quick bite—often standing up—on their way to or from work or some other destination. Under the circumstances, it probably seemed natural to slurp up one’s noodles. In a street-smart place like Edo, only haughty diners would have complained about “bad manners.”

All in all, it seems probable that the custom of noodle slurping originated at soba stands, then spread, and continued into modern times, influencing the way the Japanese eat ramen and other noodles as well.

After slicing a batch of noodles, the soba maker carefully gathers them into a neat bundle.

Traditional soba-tsuyu

Picture this: It’s hot outside, that particular kind of hot that you seem to find only in late summer in Southern California. The sky is beige, and the air seems so thick you nearly swim through it. Even after you’re inside the air-conditioned restaurant, you feel the residue on your skin. But there in front of you is a reed mat. Piled in a rough tangle on top is a low mound of pale buckwheat noodles there’s a scattering of dark green slivers of toasted seaweed on top and a small cup of tea-colored liquid next to it.

You gather a mouthful of noodles on your chopsticks and dip just the trailing strands into the liquid. Then you slurp down the noodles with a flourish. The first thing you notice is a cool moistness -- the traces of leftover cooking water still clinging to the strands. Then comes the subtly earthy, slightly mushroom-y taste of the noodle itself. Finally you get the salty, complex whip of the dipping sauce.

Can you imagine anything more refreshing or satisfying?

Soba -- in Japanese the word refers to the buckwheat plant, the flour that is ground from it, the noodle it is made into and even the whole slurpy ritual of eating it -- is a mainstay of summertime eating for many in Southern California. You can find it on menus in almost every Japanese restaurant that isn’t strictly a sushi bar.

But when people who really know soba want to eat it, they head to a nondescript block of Western Avenue in Gardena, where Seiji Akutsu crafts handmade soba at his tiny Otafuku restaurant.

Otafuku’s small dining room (“minimalist” would be a polite description of the decor) always seems jammed. And it seems that at every place there sits a plate of soba.

What makes Akutsu’s noodles so remarkable is the texture. They almost feel alive in your mouth, they are so springy to the bite. You could say they were chewy, but that might connote a certain toughness, and after the first bite these turn positively silky.

That quality can only come from freshly made noodles. While there are hundreds of places in Southern California that serve soba, there are only a few that take the trouble to make it fresh.

“Once you’ve had Otafuku’s soba, there’s no sense going anyplace else,” says Kazuto Matsusaka, chef at Culver City’s booming Beacon restaurant. Matsusaka, who was chef at Chinois on Main for 10 years, says he and his wife Vicki Fan used to make regular pilgrimages to Otafuku before their restaurant got so busy.

“We’d go to exercise, then head down to Marukai to go shopping,” he says. “And we’d stop at Otafuku for lunch. We’d do that two or three times a month. I really like it for dinner, too, when he makes all those special small plates to go with the noodles.

“Now because of running this restaurant, I haven’t been in a couple of months,” he says wistfully. “They really are the best.”

You might expect noodles like this to come from the hands of some Zen soba master, a craftsman who has dedicated his life to perfecting the art of coaxing buckwheat into noodles.

That’s not exactly the way it happened for 61-year-old Akutsu: He has been making soba for all of eight years. The son of a family who arranged special events for the Japanese royal court, Akutsu came to this country for the first time on a tourist visa in the mid-'60s.

He decided to stay and attend language school, but extending his visa made him eligible for the draft. So, in 1968, he was called up into the United States Army and served for two years during the Vietnam War.

When his commitment was completed, he returned to Japan and went to work in the family business. Eventually, that got old, so he decided to go out on his own, opening a yakitori restaurant in a building the family owned.

“I decided to cook yakitori because it seemed like something anyone could do,” he says. “It was easy to begin.”

That business closed when the Japanese economy collapsed in the late ‘80s. He returned to the U.S., this time to open a soba restaurant. “There weren’t many soba places here,” he recalls, “and Japanese people eat soba every day.”

For Otafuku he chose a spot across the street from the Japanese restaurant where he had waited tables in 1966.

His mind made up and the spot rented, he set about learning his craft, teaching himself to make noodles. “I made mucho soba,” he says.

Soba flour comes in several grades depending on how polished the grain is before it is ground. Akutsu imports all of his flour from Japan and has it delivered every two months. For most of his noodles he uses the No. 2 grade, or the third-lightest.

But the soba the purists seek out at Otafuku is made from the most highly polished flour, called sarashina after an area of Japan where soba is especially popular. It is nearly pure white and was traditionally served only to the royal court.

Akutsu calls this noodle seiro and the regular noodle zaru after the traditional woven steamer basket and plate.

Traditionally, soba is served simply. Unlike Italian noodles, in which every strand should be touched by some kind of sauce, with soba the noodle is the thing.

Cold soba is most often served on a mat simply garnished with slivered nori or perhaps a mound of freshly grated daikon radish, or a spoonful of fragrant natto, fermented soybean paste.

Alongside there will be a teacup-size container of tsuyu, a salty, fragrant broth made from shoyu (Japanese soy sauce), mirin (sweet sake) and dashi stock made from katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes).

The preparation of this seasoning broth is as much a part of the art of soba as the making of the noodles (at good restaurants, when you’re done with the noodles, they will bring you a pot of the starchy soba cooking water to add to the leftover tsuyu and drink as a soup).

Almost always there will be a plate of sliced green onion, a smear of wasabi paste and a container of shichimi togarashi, a fragrant pepper blend, to season the tsuyu.

Commonly, some kind of tempura is served on the side. Akutsu says that’s because soba was traditionally a working man’s lunch and a complementary protein was needed to finish the meal.

It may also be because the flavors of fried batter and buckwheat noodle go together so perfectly. Indeed, one popular soba topping is little bits of fried tempura crumbs (tenkasu).

Sometimes soba is served in a bowl of vibrant cold broth. As a summer special, Otafuku serves a gorgeous one garnished with julienned radishes, cucumbers and raw okra and an assortment of Japanese pickles. The broth is fragrant with slivered shiso leaf and pickled sour ume plum.

You can find soba served in similar preparations in locales such as Little Tokyo, Sawtelle, Torrance and Orange County. What makes Otafuku’s soba special is the handmade quality.

While fresh pasta is so common in Italian restaurants it’s now almost passe, hardly anyone makes fresh soba. There’s a very good reason: It’s devilishly hard to make.

That’s because buckwheat, which isn’t technically a member of the wheat family, contains no gluten, the tough, stringy chains of protein that hold together most noodles and breads. Without gluten, buckwheat doughs are extremely fragile.

This is why most cultures that use buckwheat as a regular part of the diet eat it either in the form of a whole grain (buckwheat groats or kasha) or folded into delicate batters (buckwheat pancakes, galettes and blinis).

To get the soba noodles to hold together, some wheat flour is usually mixed in. “That gives the glue,” says Akutsu. The better the soba maker, the smaller the percentage of wheat flour in the dough.

Most commercial, dried sobas actually contain more wheat flour than buckwheat flour. (When shopping for dried soba, read the label carefully: Buckwheat flour should be the first ingredient listed. There are dried sobas with 100% buckwheat, but these can be tricky to cook.)

Akutsu uses 20% wheat flour in the zaru noodles and 25% in the seiro, but he also serves as a special a noodle called kikouchi, made from pure buckwheat flour.

As he makes this fragile dough, it seems to come together almost by magic. He gathers the flour in a steel mixing bowl and gradually sprinkles filtered water over it.

The water is poured from a pitcher that has ceramic balls rattling around in it -- they “purify the water,” he says, but perhaps it is more likely that they add to the mineral content.

After the first moistening, he reaches into the flour and starts tossing it with his fingers, distributing the water evenly. What flour sticks to his hands, he scrapes off and breaks into little pieces.

He repeats this, slowly adding more water so the flour begins clumping in ever larger pieces until they are about the size of peas -- like pie dough after the butter has been cut in.

This Akutsu kneads gently, gradually adding water almost a drop at a time until the dough holds together in a single ball. It feels stiffer and slightly rougher than that used for Italian pasta.

After a brief rest to allow the moisture to distribute evenly throughout the dough, he forms it into a rough square with a rolling pin and then (in a break with tradition) finishes rolling it out on a machine. Kikouchi is rolled out about 3 millimeters thick seiro and zaru about 2 millimeters.

In addition to these sobas, there are several other interesting variants. Akutsu makes one during the winter that includes the zest of yuzu -- an aromatic Asian citrus. In Japanese markets you can usually find soba that is made with the addition of yamaimo -- mountain yam. Its moisture helps hold the buckwheat together. And there is a pretty pink soba that’s made with ume.

By far the most popular soba variation is cha-soba, which is made by adding finely powdered green tea. These noodles have a faint hint of tea flavor, but their real attraction is their beautiful jade color.

Cha-soba seems to be especially popular in Asian fusion restaurants. Both Matsusaka and Mako Tanaka, chef at Mako in Beverly Hills, say the main reason they like it is because of the green color, which is more appealing to non-Asian customers than the tan-beige of plain soba.

At Mako, Tanaka serves cha-soba in a cool dashi broth topped with sauteed fish -- usually skate wing, sometimes flounder or halibut -- and seasonal mushrooms. He says the fish cooked this way reminds him a little of tempura.

“I didn’t want to do something that was authentic, I wanted to do something creative, something different,” he says. “I love skate wing, and the way we prepare it, it’s nice and crispy and the crispy flavor matches with the noodles.”

Matsusaka serves cha-soba at Beacon, but as more of a salad, seasoned with a shoyu vinaigrette instead of tsuyu. He tosses the noodles with slivered vegetables and tops the dish with grilled shrimp.

Whatever the type, soba is cooked in a large pot of rapidly boiling water. Fresh takes less than a minute dried takes four to five minutes. For cold soba, the noodles are drained and placed in a plastic basket in a bowl of room-temperature water where they are briskly rubbed to remove any surface starch. At home it’s easier to rinse them under a tap until the water runs clear.

Traditionally, the soba is then arranged on the woven mat for cooling and draining. But the climate in Japan is much more humid than in Los Angeles, so Akutsu gives the noodles another final bath in ice water to chill them thoroughly before they can dry out.

In Irvine, Yasuhiro Fukada also makes handmade soba, serving it with traditional accompaniments such as natto and tenkasu at his restaurant Fukada.

“There are no secrets to making good soba,” says Fukada, who was chef and part owner at the Los Angeles restaurants Mishima and Taiko. “I import my flour from Japan and get up every morning to make the noodles and shave the dried bonito flakes.”

Good soba, says Akutsu, is just a matter of kodawari, the Japanese word used to describe the way an artist concentrates on perfect brushstrokes.

“Soba is so easy to make,” he says, proving himself a master of kenkyo, the Japanese ritual of hyperbolic modesty. “It really doesn’t take any technique. All you have to do is get the best soba flour, the best shoyu, the best katsuobushi, the best mirin.

“It’s only good ingredients. You just have to be smart. It’s all a matter of paying attention to details. That’s what makes my place different from any other. I concentrate on making good soba and good broth. Everything else is easy.”

New Year’s Eve is called Ōmisoka (大晦日) in Japanese and it’s a Japanese custom to eat soba noodles on Omisoka. We call this tradition Toshikoshi Soba (年越しそば) or year-crossing noodle. The custom and its name differs by region in Japan, but this tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867). There are several theories why we have this custom and here are some well-known ones:

  • Long thin soba noodles symbolize a long life.
  • Buckwheat can survive severe weather, which represents strength and resiliency.
  • Goldsmiths use buckwheat flour to gather gold dust, which symbolizes good fortune.
  • Soba noodles are easily cut while eating, which symbolizes letting go of hardship of the year.

Soba Noodle Soup

For Toshikoshi Soba, the noodles are often eaten plain without any toppings, or with just chopped scallions. I like mine to be simple too as we usually eat Toshikoshi Soba before midnight. Some people top them with tempura or fish cakes. Some eat cold soba instead of soba in hot soup. Today I’ll show you the Soba Noodle Soup recipe which I would normally prepare for regular meal. In this recipe, t he dashi broth is flavored with kombu, bonito flakes, and the usual Japanese seasonings like mirin, soy sauce and sake. When the nutty buckwheat noodles immerse in the hot broth, you’d get a bowl of noodle soup that is light yet no lack of umami complexity.

This Soba Noodle Soup will keep you nourished and leave you a warm fuzzy feeling inside out. What a wonderful dish to welcome the New Year! Do you have a New Year’s Eve tradition where you are from or live? I’d love to know.

Don’t want to miss a recipe? Sign up for the FREE Just One Cookbook newsletter delivered to your inbox! And stay in touch on Facebook , Google+ , Pinterest , and Instagram for all the latest updates. Thank you so much for reading, and till next time!

Forget ramen — handmade buckwheat soba noodles are the true quintessential dish of Japan

Medha Imam: You may think of a steaming bowl of ramen as the classic Japanese dish. But what if I told you ramen actually originated from China and there is another type of noodle that's native to Japan? It's called soba.

Sakura Yagi: It's interesting that people think that ramen is the quintessential Japanese noodle, but soba has more of a history.

Fumi Abe: Not that long ago, you know, a lot of ramen was referred to as Chuka soba, which literally means Chinese soba.

Medha: I headed out to Sobaya with comedian and host of the "Asian, Not Asian" podcast Fumi Abe. We're going to see how soba is made, and Fumi is going to teach me how to eat soba.

Fumi: Yes, this feels like some sort of ancient, like, yoga technique or something, you know? It's very good on my back.

Medha: While ramen is made from wheat flour, soba is made from buckwheat. Served hot or cold, soba noodles are known for their nutty, rich flavor and are brown, long, and thin like spaghetti.

Sakura: When you go have ramen, you're not first asked, "Hot or cold?" Right, and so even from the get-go, I think soba has more versatility to it.

Medha: Cold soba, also known as zaru soba, is served chilled and dry on a bamboo tray and is sometimes topped with seaweed or served like a salad.

Sakura: Soba is more about really tasting the flavor of the noodle. I think, ramen, it's more about the broth and the texture of the noodle.

Medha: Popular throughout Japan regardless of the season, soba noodles can be found all over the country in most noodle shops and differ from region to region. As machine-made and instant noodles grow in popularity, the tradition of making soba noodles by hand is being practiced less and less.

Sakura: If you just make everything by machine, then you're gonna lose the skills and the knowledge that all these artisans have that were passed on generation by generation.

Medha: Fumi and I joined Victor, who's been practicing the craft for the past 15 years.

Sakura: You know, Victor, he's Mexican, but he trained so hard so that when a Japanese person comes from Japan and eats our soba and they see who makes it, they're surprised. They think, "This is better than Japan!" It is truly a, you know, passing-on-a-knowledge- to-the-next-generation kind of task.

Medha: Soba starts off with mixing 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour. OK, so what is the first step that we do?

Victor: Oh, first we gotta make sure this really mixed.

Medha: Together?

Victor: Yeah, mix it. Fumi: This feels good.

Medha: Oh, my God.

Fumi: This feels really good.

Medha: It's so soft.

Fumi: Oh, my gosh.

Victor: Next step is you gotta dump the water little by little. Soba depends a lot on water.

Fumi: It's not as soft anymore thanks to the water, but, yeah, I feel, like, these little pebbles. OK, I'm doing this all wrong, I feel. Do I just put it in the middle like this?

Victor: No, like you're washing clothes.

Fumi: Like I'm washing clothes? Oh, my gosh.

Medha: Have you washed clothes like this? Fumi: No, I hate doing that. Like, by the river? What do you mean? Like, what the. [laughing]

Victor: This is next, we have the soba dough. What we gotta do now is unroll it. So, a little flour so it doesn't stick with your hands. These movements. Like, turning, turning.

Fumi: You turn it like this?

Victor: Right.

Fumi: By pushing? Oh, but I'm stretching it, is that OK?

Victor: Yeah, press a little bit, yeah.

Medha: You make this 70 times every day?

Victor: Not every day, only on New Year's Eve 'cause of toshikoshi soba.

Fumi: Oh, toshikoshi soba, yeah. But yeah, on New Year's, typically we would eat it, which is, like, a tradition that Japanese people like to do just to say goodbye to the previous year by eating soba at night, like, hopping-over-the-year soba.

Victor: This is the fun part.

Medha: This is the fun part?

Victor: Yeah.

Fumi: Oh, whoa! Look at his arms.

Medha: Oh, my God.

Fumi: Look at his arms!

Medha: After the dough achieves the perfect consistency, it's time to hand-cut the noodles into spaghetti-like strands.

Fumi: Whoa! Oh, my God, flex. My God. It's interesting how, like, the Italians have, like, the pasta maker, you know, but this is what the Japanese people thought of.

Medha: It's so delicate.

Fumi: It is. It's like a live animal. It's like your baby, you know? Oh, my gosh.

Medha: Pat, pat, pat, pat. Hit, hit, hit, hit, hit.

Victor: That's how we learn. That's how we learn how to do soba.

Medha: Once the dough is formed, the chef adds noodles to boiling water until they are cooked. The final dish comes with a small cup of broth or sauce that complements the noodles and completes the dish. So, the tip is then to, like, take your chopsticks, lift the noodles, dip, and then slurp.

Medha: OK. [slurping] Mm.

Fumi: The sound in a noodle shop is, like, almost like a compliment to the chef. But, you know, in America, and, you know, as foreign people kind of move to Japan and see what we're doing over there, you know, slurping is internationally regarded as a little inappropriate, right? It's not uncommon to see, like, a Japanese person eating noodles today and that person will not slurp. Because of societal pressures. You can still kind of taste that, like, the buckwheat, like, bitterness a little bit, you know, like the overtone of that. And. are you getting sauce all over yourself?

Medha: Yeah, I think I slurped it wrong.

Fumi: Oh, my God, you're a mess. So, if you go to Tokyo or something and you're looking for a soba restaurant, my dad always tells me, like, don't go to Google, don't, like, try to find the "best soba restaurant." Like, just look around and see where all, like, the Japanese salary men are eating, and so if you see a bunch of, like, Japanese salary men, like, eating with their white shirts and they're not talking to anybody and they're just slurping, they'll finish their meal in, like, 45 seconds, and that's the place you wanna go to. You're so silent, oh, my gosh.

Medha: Oh, my God, because I'm enjoying this food.

Fumi: No, but the, with the slurping.

Medha: Oh, slurping, oh, my God, you're right, you're right.

Fumi: I don't hear any slurping.

Medha: You're right, I'm so rude, I'm so sorry.

Medha: Let me slurp.

Fumi: I think a lot of us, if you're second generation or, like, 1.5 generation, we're always kind of like, our identity is always just, like, confusing 'cause, you know, you don't really feel like you belong with people back in your "home country" or like the Western people don't always see you as one of them here, but through traditions like that, I think it's a good way to just kind of, like, remind yourself that, like, at the end of the day, like, I'm just trying to eat some soba, and, you know, we have that in common.

Victor: It looks like you've been doing this before.

Medha: I swear I have never done this.

Fumi: Did you come early and practice?

Medha: No, I didn't.

Fumi: Oh, my gosh. It is not fair. I was not told about this.