June 2023







[Soba Noodles]

When it gets hot, don't you feel like eating cold soba noodles? Soba noodles are originally known as "soba kiri," which are cut into long, thin strips using a knife. Soba (buckwheat) is believed to have originated in southern China and was introduced to Japan during the Jomon period (14,000-300 BC). Initially, buckwheat was consumed as porridge. However, during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), a mortar and grinding stone were introduced from China, leading to the development of a food culture centered around buckwheat flour. This eventually gave rise to the different forms of soba, such as "soba gaki" and "soba kiri."

During the Edo period (1603-1867), noodles made solely from buckwheat flour were steamed in a seiro (a type of cooking stove) since they were prone to breaking when boiled. The tradition of serving cold soba noodles in a seiro or colander originated from this practice. In the mid-Edo period, soba noodles began to be boiled together with "nihachi soba" (a mixture of 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour). Additionally, it was during this period that soy sauce gained popularity among the common people. Prior to that, soba was consumed with miso sauce, which was prepared by diluting miso with water.

The protein in wheat flour forms gluten when water is added, giving it a sticky consistency. On the contrary, the protein in buckwheat does not form gluten and is less prone to sticking, requiring more expertise to handle. In Niigata, a local variation of soba noodles called hegi-soba is prepared using yams, eggs, and a type of seaweed known as fu-nori as binders instead of wheat, resulting in a distinctive culinary specialty unique to the region.

There are three main styles of Edo soba: Sunaba Soba, Sarashina Soba, and Yabu Soba. Sunaba Soba, the oldest variety, is characterized by thin, pounded white noodles and a thick, sweet sauce. The name "Sunaba Soba" is derived from the existence of a soba restaurant near "sunaba" (sandbox), which served as a storage area for materials used in the construction of Osaka Castle.

Sarashina Soba features white, transparent noodles. During the Edo period (1603-1867), soba craftsmen from Sarashina Village in Nagano Prefecture introduced soba to Edo (present-day Tokyo) while being supported by the Hoshina family in their samurai residence. Therefore, it was named "Sarashina (更科) Soba" by taking one letter from each of "Sarashina (更級) Village" and "Hoshina (保科) family."

"Yabu Soba" is a type of thin greenish soba noodle made from buckwheat flour ground with the sweet peel of the buckwheat seed still attached. It is known for its robust flavor of soy sauce and a savory broth. This led to the popularity of the Edo style of enjoying soba with a small amount of dipping sauce. The name "Yabu Soba" is said to have originated from the locals who referred to it colloquially as such because a soba restaurant called "Tsutaya," located on Dangozaka in Nezu, Tokyo, was surrounded by "yabu" (bushes).

Soba is abundant in nutritious components, such as vitamins B1 and B2, the essential amino acid lysine (which alleviates fatigue and enhances concentration), and rutin (a type of polyphenol that strengthens blood vessels and has antioxidant properties). During the Edo period (1603-1867), the prevalence of refined white rice, derived from brown rice, led to the emergence of a condition known as "beriberi." However, it is believed that the consumption of soba, which contains vitamin B1, instead of white rice, empirically cured "beriberi" or "Edo sickness," as it was colloquially called, thus contributing to the popularity of soba in Edo (present-day Tokyo).

Lastly, I would like to introduce "Shinshu Matsumoto Teuchi Soba and Tempura Iidaya," a soba restaurant located in the Matsumoto Station Building, which I often visit when I'm in Nagano. The soba noodles in this region are thin and short, offering a refreshing and delightful taste. This restaurant specializes in handcrafted soba made with yam flour, and I always look forward to their unique walnut sauce soba, which is a specialty of Shinshu. I am eager to explore and savor different varieties of soba from various regions.

Seiryugama's Soba Set
Shinshu Matsumoto Handmade Soba & Tempura Iidaya









[The Aalto House]

The Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino designed their own house and studio where they lived for about 40 years.

In 1934, Aalto and his wife Aino purchased a plot of land on Lihitie Street in Helsinki's Munkkiniemi district, 5 km northwest of Helsinki Central Station, and began designing their own residence, which was completed in 1936. The couple used natural materials and a simple design with a focus on practicality to create a harmonious expression of modern architecture. Designing their home themselves also allowed them to experiment with different materials and construction methods. Alvar Aalto lived in this house until his death in 1976, after which it was occupied by his second wife, Elissa, and his relatives. Protected by the Building Protection Act, the building is now one of several museums owned by the Alvar Aalto Foundation and can be visited year-round on a one-hour guided tour, with a museum store located in the residence.

In 2021, I visited the exhibition "Aino and Alvar: The Two Aaltos of Finland - Myths of Architecture and Design" at the Setagaya Art Museum, and I developed a growing desire to visit the house where Aalto actually lived if I ever went to Finland. When I finally decided to go to Finland, I made a reservation in advance on the Internet and took a tram from the center of Helsinki to visit Aalto's house by myself.

At the time of my visit, there were two groups participating: myself and a Finnish father and son. I had heard that there would be more participants, so I consider myself fortunate to have joined the tour at that specific time. The guide, a lady, could speak Japanese and alternately provided guidance in Japanese to our group and in Finnish to the other group. We were able to ask questions in Japanese while she was guiding us, and when she was guiding the other pair, we were free to explore the house and take pictures, making the tour more enjoyable and relaxed than we had anticipated. It was a pleasant surprise, as we had prepared for the tour to be conducted in Finnish or English.

From the outside, the building appears closed and modestly designed, but once inside, it opens up with soft light and views of greenery through the large windows. The pure white Aalto desk facing the window captivated my attention for a while. The workspace and private areas are differentiated by the use of different materials. The living room and studio are separated by a large sliding door, and the windows are covered with sudare. Our guide informed us that this was not a common feature in Finland but was influenced by Japan. Despite never having visited Japan, Alvar Aalto had a deep interest in Japanese architecture, and throughout the house, there were elements that felt familiar and comforting to me as a Japanese visitor.

Once you have visited this place, every time you encounter Aalto Design furniture in the city, you will be reminded of the Scandinavian air, light, and the ambiance of that space, even after returning to Japan. Please remember to make an appointment for a visit.

The Aalto House






[Craft Cola]

Recently, we often see "craft cola." I feel like drinking cola when it is hot or during the humid rainy season, but how about you?

The famous "Coca-Cola" was invented by John Stith Pemberton, an American pharmacist, in 1886. Tasty, refreshing, crisp, and invigorating, Coca-Cola was used to relieve headaches, relieve fatigue, and calm the nerves, and as a non-alcoholic alternative during the U.S. prohibition of alcohol. Coca-Cola is said to have originated from the use of coca leaves and cola nuts "kola nuts" as ingredients, neither of which are included today. Incidentally, the world's first carbonated beverage brand was Schweppes, which was founded in Switzerland in 1873.

Kola nut is the seed of the kola nut, an evergreen tree in the genus Kola of the mallow family, which grows wild or is cultivated mainly in the tropical rainforests of West Africa. They contain kolatin, a form of caffeine, and theobromine, which is found in chocolate and guarana. Kola nuts are a delicacy to be enjoyed by chewing a small piece, and have been believed to help control thirst and hunger. And they have a history of being actively traded as the only permitted stimulant or irritant for Muslims. Even today, in addition to its daily use as a sleepy remedy, it is also used in ceremonies such as weddings and funerals.

The first craft cola was Caleb's Kola by PepsiCo in 2014. In Japan, it was launched in 2018; Ila Cola and Tomo Cola were launched in the same year from Japan, followed by many other craft colas in the country. Local craft colas are also often seen. Craft colas are highly flexible and the main ingredients are spices, citrus fruits, and sugar, and the methods of making them vary.

The process of making craft cola mainly involves spices such as cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and vanilla beans, citrus fruits such as ginger and lemon (the peel is also used), sugar, and water, boiling them in a pot to make a syrup, and then mixing it with carbonated water. The aroma of spices, bitterness and sourness seem to define the taste of cola. Since many plums are available these days, I made this drink by adding cloves, cinnamon, cardamom spices, and brown sugar to green plums in syrup. The unique sourness and aroma of the green plums work well, but I think it would be delicious even if made with fully ripened plums.

Because plums are highly acidic, glass or enameled containers are suitable for storing plums. Glass is especially enjoyable because you can see the inside and check how it changes. We also have glass storage containers, so please make use of them for your plum preparation.

Koizumi Glass's Canister
MokuNeji's Pot
Azumaya's Kop (*Restocked for the first time in several years)