Seriously Asian

Asian cookery, with an emphasis on the traditional, underappreciated, or misunderstood elements thereof.

Seriously Asian: Soba

"Dip, slurp, and enjoy."

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Once at an Italian restaurant, I ordered a fresh tagliatelle dish that seemed fairly run-of-the-mill except for the fact that the freshly kneaded, freshly cut noodles were made with buckwheat flour. The buckwheat's nuttiness was a refreshing change from the usual softness of white flour pasta, and it tasted so good, I thought to myself, why don't more pasta dishes make use of buckwheat flour?

Buckwheat noodles, or soba, are a staple in Japanese cuisine. Chewy with a grainy texture, buckwheat noodles are eaten hot, cold, or at room temperature. The dough is made from a combination of wheat and buckwheat flour and can be found in a variety of thicknesses, in either a round or square shape.

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Buckwheat noodles are commonly sold in dried form, but Japanese and Korean markets usually carry fresh soba in the refrigerated sections. Like most types of fresh pasta, fresh soba has a chewiness that the dried noodles lack, but I like the bouncy, more "brittle" texture of dried soba just as well.

Because soba has such a grainy taste and texture, you should pair it with simple, clean flavors like soy sauce, sesame oil, and dashi. Since the soba broth is so simple, it's important to use the best quality condiments you can find: fresh, homemade dashi whenever possible, and light Japanese soy sauce.

The classic dipping sauce for soba is a combination of dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and a bit of sugar. An assortment of relish-style items is also paired with the noodles: a dab of wasabi, some freshly grated daikon, and finely chopped green scallions. The finely grated daikon swims like a school of tadpoles in a clear pool of broth, adding both sweetness and sharpness.

Whatever else you choose to serve with the soba, make sure it's simple and doesn't interfere with the noodle's natural flavors. Dip, slurp, and enjoy.

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