Updated: December 20, 2019
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What is Soba? (Japanese Soba Noodles)

Soba is one of the classic Japanese noodles that everyone needs to try! The noodles have been used in Japanese cooking for longer than most other foods that are now synonymous with Japan, including sushi and ramen. Soba is not only delicious but quite healthy as well! Read on to learn more.

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What is Soba?

Hand-cutting fresh soba noodles
Soba is the Japanese word for buckwheat but usually refers to soba noodles when used alone. Soba noodles are made with nothing other than water and soba flour (sometimes mixed with a small amount of wheat flour) and are typically brownish grey in color. Soba noodles are used in a variety of Japanese dishes and are an important part of Japanese cuisine. Soba noodles have been eaten in Japan longer than any other kind of noodle, including udon and ramen. No matter where you travel in the country, you can be sure that you'll find a soba restaurant in pretty much any town, no matter how small.

The best and tastiest soba is hand-made with fresh soba flour that is mixed with water and made into a dough which is rolled out and sliced into thin, even noodles. Dried soba noodles can also be purchased from the grocery store, but the taste cannot compare to fresh noodles!

What's the Difference Between Udon and Soba Noodles?

As stated above, soba noodles are made from soba flour (buckwheat flour). Udon noodles, in contrast, are made from wheat flour.

Soba noodles that are made from 100% buckwheat flour are called 'juwari' (十割)which means 100%. However, wheat flour is often added (typically 20% wheat flour to 80% buckwheat flour) to make the noodles stronger.
A field of soba (buckwheat) plants

Are Soba Noodles Healthy?

Yes, soba noodles are quite healthy. The noodles are high in fiber, protein, and minerals while being mostly gluten and fat-free!

Are Soba Noodles Better for you than Pasta?

Soba is unquestionably better for you than standard white or enriched pasta. It's much higher in protein and fiber, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Soba is actually roughly equivalent to whole wheat pasta in terms of nutrient content, although the protein in soba is of a higher quality and is more bioavailable to your body.

Is Chuka Soba a Type of Soba?

'Chuka Soba' also known as 'ramen'
The name chuka soba is a bit of a misnomer, as it actually refers to ramen. The name originated when ramen noodles were first introduced to Japan from China more than 100 years ago. The new noodle dish was somewhat similar to soba in appearance, so it was called 'Sina soba' (Chinese soba). Eventually, the word 'Sina' came to be considered derogatory, and name changed to 'Chuka Soba' (also meaning Chinese soba) and then to 'ramen' which is the most common name of the dish today. Ramen noodles are made with wheat flour and are therefore completely different from soba noodles.
Although ramen is the most common name for the dish today, it's still not uncommon to find restaurants selling 'Chuka soba' or even a few selling 'Sina soba.'

What's the Difference Between Soba and Yakisoba?

Yakisoba is the name of a popular dish that is typically sold at festivals or as street food. The dish is inspired by Chinese noodle dishes and actually uses the same kind of noodles as ramen. Thus, the noodles are made of wheat, not buckwheat.

How is Soba Eaten?

Hot 'kake soba'
Soba is most commonly eaten as a hot or cold soup. Hot soups generally have a similar soup base that is traditionally made from katsuo dashi (bonito soup base) and are topped with various toppings which change the name of the dish (ie. kitsune soba = soba with fried tofu, tsukimi soba = soba with a raw egg in it, etc.).

Cold soba dishes can be similar to the hot version, just with a cold soup, or more popularly, served as 'zaru soba.' Zaru soba is a dish where the noodles are piled on a tray and served with a cup of strong dipping sauce called 'tsuyu.' Once all the noodles are gone, the thick water used to boil the noodles (called sobayu) is poured into the leftover dipping sauce and enjoy as a drink.
cold 'zaru soba'

In closing

Hopefully you were able to learn a thing or two about soba from this article. If you're curious to learn more, check out our article about other popular Japanese dishes!
I live in west Tokyo and spend most of my time thinking about food or going bouldering.

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