Zaru Soba NoodleYou know it is summer when you hear the loud cacophony of cicadas and slurp your soba, at least you do if you live in Japan. We in the U.S. know the sounds of cicadas well, but many are missing out if you have never eaten soba noodles. I hope you will give it a try. It is extremely easy to make once you gather the ingredients. Japanese soba noodles are very low-calorie, gluten-free, nutritious, and best of all delicious.

Japanese food in the U.S. is rarely Japanese at all

While I lived in Japan,  soba which are buckwheat noodles with a delicious sauce and a few toppings, were one of my absolute favorite dishes. They are delicious year-round but especially popular in the summer heat since they are eaten cold.

Most Americans have very little knowledge of Japanese food beyond sushi, tempura, and teriyaki sauce. Unfortunately, most “Japanese” restaurants in the U.S. do not taste like any food I ever ate in my many years of living in Japan. I don’t even recognize most of the items in Japanese restaurants here as remotely Japanese at all.

Most Japanese restaurants in the U.S. outside major cities seem to be owned by Chinese or Korean immigrants who tried to cash in on the Japanese food craze even though they have no knowledge of Japanese food at all. Japanese cuisine is as far removed from Korean and Chinese cuisine as you can possibly get. It is no more similar than German food is to Mexican food.

If you try this recipe and don’t like it, do yourself a favor and give it at least one or two more tries. I didn’t care for it at first because it has a  very unique flavor.  But now I love it to the point I am a soba addict. Also, it is very nutritious and healthy with the added bonus of being very low in calories.

1 cup of cooked noodles has only 113 calories. More with sauce and seasoning but not much more. It is a great diet food that will fill you up without filling you out. They are also Gluten-free if that matters to you. (For people with gluten allergies I do not need to tell you to be sure and check the label. Some brands are 100% gluten-free and others use wheat) They are high in vitamins A, B, minerals, and fiber. There are many ways to east soba both hot and cold. This is just one of the dozens.

Ingredients -This recipe is for what is known as Zaru Soba

This can be the trickiest part. If you have an Asian grocer that stocks a large Japanese section you may be fine. But some of the ingredients you might need to buy off of Amazon or other sites.

1) Soba Noodles These are my personal favorites simply because they are easy to find. They sell these locally at my Kroger but they are very expensive. Around $4 per pack so I buy in bulk from Amazon. They come in various colors also. The green ones have green tea, orange has yam, but the standard buckwheat ones are brownish in color.

2) Tsuyu This is the dipping sauce. You can buy this in a bottle pre-made but that gets pricey very quickly and isn’t as good as making it yourself. I will include a recipe to make your own sauce below which is not only far more delicious but also much cheaper. But for people who just want to try soba for the very first time,  just buy the sauce pre-made and try it. Then if you decide to try it again you can learn to make your own sauce.

3) Green onions or fresh chives chopped up. You sprinkle these on top of the sauce or noodles. They are optional but I love them.

4) Wasabi sauce. You should be able to buy this in pretty much any grocery store now. Make sure and buy an authentic Japanese brand. Be careful not to buy Wasabi that is not made in Japan because it has an odd taste. Stick to Japanese wasabi only.

5) Shredded Nori This is simply the green dried seaweed that is used on sushi. You probably can not find it already shredded but it is perfectly fine to buy some sheets for sushi and shred it yourself. The sheets are sold at any supermarket. Just cut them into very small shreds. Or just click this link to order from Amazon.

6)  Roasted Sesame seed -This is purely my personal preference. I love toasted sesame seeds. So I usually will sprinkle some on my soba. Available at any grocery store. I bought a large plastic jar for less than $2 at my local Kroger. (Optional ingredient but recommended)

7)  Salmon Furikake This is usually used on rice as a flavoring. Furikake is basically a combination of several ingredients that might include shredded seaweed, some dried fish flakes, wasabi, some sugar, salt, and many other combinations. You could use this instead of shredded Nori alone or in addition to the nori. (Optional ingredient but recommended)

8) (optional) I also love Shiso leaves. It is part of the mint family. You will likely not be able to find this anywhere, but order some shiso seeds and grow your own plants and you can eat them year-round. They are delicious with food or even tea. You can buy it dried but fresh is the way to go. Chop up a shiso leaf on your soba for that really authentic kick.

9) (optional) Grated Daikon radish, This is a large white Japanese radish you can sometimes find in the supermarket. I am not a big daikon fan but didn’t want to leave that part out for people that might enjoy that taste.

If you do not plan on making your own Tsuyu sauce you are done collecting ingredients. Gather all those items and watch this video. If you want to make your own Tsuyu sauce (highly recommended) then skip down a bit for the Tsyuyu ingredient list and recipe. After your Tsuyu is made come back here and watch this video.

 Homemade Tsuyu Sauce Ingredients

Important Note: This recipe is to make a concentrated solution. You can keep it stored in an airtight container in the fridge for a few weeks. To actually eat it with soba I suggest you dilute it with about 2 or 3 parts cold water to 1 part of this concentrated solution. Otherwise, the flavor will be far too strong. This will make enough tsuyu for many servings.

1 cup Soy Sauce

1 cup plus 2 Tbsp  Mirin   (You should be able to find in your grocery store)

3/4 cup sake (Any sake is fine, most grocery stores and any liquor store should have some cheap sake)

1 cup bonito flakes

1 2×2 inch cut of Kombu

Homemade Tsuyu Instructions:

In a medium saucepan add only the sake at first and bring to a boil. Then add in the mirin and soy sauce and stir well. Then add kombu and Katsubushi (bonito flakes). Bring it to a boil and stir well then reduce to low heat and cook for about 5 minutes stirring occasionally and extra few minutes is also fine. Turn off heat and let cool. You will need a fine sieve or strainer. Pour the mixture through the sieve and this is Tsuyu sauce. Make sure no solid material is in the sauce so strain well.

Don’t throw away the kombu or bonito. Set them aside and you can use them to make delicious furikake to go over rice.

Suggestions for eating soba: This is just the way I prefer to eat soba. I mix the wasabi and chopped green onions with the tsuyu. I sprinkle my soba noodles with sesame and furikake. Then you take your chopsticks and pick up a portion and dip it into the sauce and do your best to soak it thoroughly and get some green onions on your portion of noodles. Hold the bowl close to your mouth and you slurp it in so as not to spill it everywhere. Not very elegant but very practical and fun. Soba and slurping go hand in hand. Simply follow the instructions for cooking the soba on the package. No other instructions are really needed once the Tsuyu is made. Simply gather ingredients and boil noodles.

If you tried the recipe let me know what you thought of it in the comments. Also if you have any questions also leave them in the comments and I will do my best to answer. Soba is best served cold so make sure both the noodles and tsuyu sauce are both chilled. ITADAKIMASU (ee-tah-dah-key-mas) It means simply “let’s eat”  Say that before you eat your soba. And after you are finished you say GOCHISOOSAMA (go-chee-so-sama) or that was delicious. And I certainly hope you think it is as delicious as I do and become a soba addict. Bon appétit!

Thai Peanut Soba  Sauce Recipe

Update: A few people wrote me asking about other sauces besides the tsuyu. Yes, there are many. Here is just one you can try with soba noodles instead of the Tsuyu. This is a Thai/Japanese fusion sauce that you can adjust to your tastes. 

For the Spicy Peanut Sauce:

  • 5 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 5 tablespoons water
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce, or tamari for gluten free
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil (optional – for flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce like sriracha (more or less depending on spice tolerance)
  • 1/2 cup peanuts

Puree sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. Add the peanuts last so you can control how chunky it is (I like to leave it a little more on the chunky side).

If you want to make this a bit more substantial of a meal you can also add some chicken (grilled, boiled, baked, however, you prefer) Then chop it us and add to the sauce and pour it all over the noodles.

Also, try my Japanese corn on the cob recipe.

By Alan Wood

Musings of an unabashed and unapologetic liberal deep in the heart of a Red State. Crusader against obscurantism. Optimistic curmudgeon, snark jockey, lovably opinionated purveyor of wisdom and truth. Multi-lingual world traveler and part-time irreverent philosopher who dabbles in writing, political analysis, and social commentary. Attempting to provide some sanity and clarity to complex issues with a dash of sardonic wit and humor. Thanks for visiting!

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