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