Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles): Eating Japan

by Valerie on Friday, August 27, 2010

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Cold soba is one of those dishes that’s perfect on a hot summer’s day.  It’s very refreshing and although it’s subtle, the flavor is so tasty that you feel completely satisfied and content after your meal. Soba is easy to make and sure to be a hit every time.

To make about 4 servings:

-2 quarts (2 L) water
-12 oz (340 g) dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
-1 1/2 cups dashi
-5 tbsps soy sauce
-3 tbsps mirin
-1 tbsp sugar
-1 sheet toasted nori
-2 green onions
-4 tsps wasabi powder
-2 tbsp finely grated daikon (Japanese radish)

Cooking the Noodles

Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat.  Add the noodles a small bundle at a time, stirring gently to separate.  When the water returns to a full boil, add 1 cup of cold water.  Repeat this twice.  When the water returns to a full boil, check the noodles for doneness.  You want to cook them until they are firm-tender.  Do not overcook them.

Drain the noodles in a collander and rinse well under cold running water until the noodles are cool.

This not only stops the cooking process, but also removes the starch from the noodles.  This is an essential part of soba noodle making.  Once the noodles are cooled, drain them and cover them with a damp kitchen towel and set them aside allowing them to cool completely.

Preparing the Dipping Sauce

Dashi stock can either be purchased pre-made, it can be made from scratch, or it can be made by mixing and diluting instant dashi granules. I chose to buy insant dashi granules at a local Japanese market. Any brand you find will come with directions on the back for how to make the stock. The dashi I found thankfully came with instructions in both Japanese and English.  I used the proportions of 1 tsp of dashi granules for 6 cups of water.  I would say this was on the weaker side, which was what I was in the mood for – mild dipping sauce so I could really appreciate the taste and consistency of the buckwheat noodles.

After making your dashi stock, bring the dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin and sugar to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.  Stir gently to dissolve the sugar.  Once completely dissolved, allow the sauce to cool completely.  You may refrigerate if you desire a cold dipping sauce (on a particularly hot day).

Arranging the Meal

This meal’s garnishes are almost as important as the noodles themselves.  Using kitchen sheers, cut the sheet of nori crosswise into quarters.  Then cut those quarters crosswise into 1/8-inch wide strips.

Next, very finely chop the green onions on the bias.

Mix wasabi to desired consistency, cover and let stand for 10 minutes.

Grate diakon (Japanese radish) using a microplane or similar grater.

Traditionally soba is served on a bamboo basket tray, but if you don’t have these, you can simply serve them on a plate or in a bowl. Divide up the noodles, laying them on your serving dishes. Sprinkle each with 1/4 of the nori. In small side bowl or cup, place 1/2 cup of dipping sauce into each. In separate small side dishes, serve each person a small amount of wasabi, grated daikon, and green onions.

The noodles are eaten by sprinkling the desired garnishes into the dipping sauce and eating the noodles by first dipping them into the sauce. Feel free to slurp away! Oishii!

Recipe adapted from Practical Japanese Cooking: Easy and Elegant


Erica August 27, 2010 at 10:26 am

this looks so amazingly light, yummy and perfect for a hot summer’s day!! i want this for lunch NOW. xx

Valerie August 28, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Thanks Erica! And go for it, it’s easy and so yummy!

Chocolate Shavings August 27, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve had zaru soba at restaurants many times but have never tried making my own – will definitely be trying this!

Paula August 28, 2010 at 2:35 am

I like the colour of that dish and can`t wait to try this!

Valerie August 28, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Thanks everybody! And do let us know how they turn out when you try it!

Sarah November 19, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Hey Valerie, I enjoyed your post, especially the beautiful photos. While living in Japan I became a zaru soba fanatic, and I found that they turn out best if you dunk the cooked noodles in ice water for about 3 minutes before draining and serving. Also, it’s hard to find good buckwheat noodles in the U.S., so if you want the real thing, you need to look for noodles that are 80% or more buckwheat. Eden Foods makes 100% buckwheat noodles which I buy in bulk from Amazon. I could go on and on because I’m totally obsessed, but if you want to read all my soba adventures you could check out this post on my (much less attractive) blog:
Thank you again for spreading the news about soba!

Valerie November 19, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Hey, Sarah! Thanks for the great tip. I love soba too, can’t get enough. And I loved your post… your blog is fabulous!!

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