The Complete Guide for Basic Information on Japanese Soba and How to Eat It!

Written by Misano
24 Oct 2017
Last update :

Japanese soba has a long history; there has even been buckwheat pollen found at historic sites in Japan that is estimated to be from around 9,000 years ago. Since then, it has continued to be a beloved staple in Japanese household meals, and in recent years there are even fast-food soba restaurants, so it’s easy to get some any time you want it.
Here I will introduce some information you'll want to know when you come to Japan and eat soba!

Contents

Soba is a Favorite of Japanese Women!

Is soba an appropriate food for when you're dieting?

100g of standard soba noodles is about 130 calories. (Calorie content depends on the amount of buckwheat flour used)
Also, since you hardly use oil when cooking soba, plain soba noodles are just around 300-400 calories per serving.
Soba has about half the carbs of ramen, pasta, and udon!
It's not good for you if you eat too much, but I recommend soba for people who want to diet!

Nutritional Value of Soba

・Strengthens blood vessels!

It's packed with rutin, which strengthens capillaries, helps prevent the hardening of arteries, and lowers blood pressure. The rutin is contained in the soba water (soba-yu), so be sure to drink the soba water!

・Packed with healthy proteins

The amino acids that make up the proteins in soba are well-balanced, and in particular it is rich in lysine, a growth hormone that is used in synthesis and the repair and growth of bodily tissues.

・Plentiful vitamins

Compared to other grains, buckwheat contains around four times the amount of vitamin B.

・Dietary fiber

Soba is also packed with dietary fiber, so it's great for intestinal health and relieving constipation.

Buckwheat Seeds
Buckwheat Seeds

The Secret to Why Japanese Women Love Soba

The healthy food soba is super popular with health-conscious Japanese women!
Soba made with seaweed like wakame are even more nutrient-packed, making them extra popular.
However, eating soba with calorie-dense tempura ends up as a rather high-calorie meal.... But you can't give up the combination of tempura and soba together!

Soba is a Favorite of Japanese Women!
Soba is a Favorite of Japanese Women!

How Do You Eat the Ever-Popular Soba?

Japan has produced a wide variety of soba recipes thus far. If I were to try to introduce all of those recipes, I could probably make a book out of it. So instead, I'll be introducing the typical ways to eat soba.

Standard Ways to Eat

  • "Zarusoba" (Cold soba): Rinse cooked soba noodles in cold water, drain, and serve on a dish. Served with cold dipping sauce. Eat by taking single mouthfuls and dipping in the cold dipping sauce.
  • Kakesoba (Warm soba): After rinsing cooked soba noodles with cold water, put the noodles into a bowl and pour hot broth over before serving.

Top 5 Most Popular Soba Recipes!

Out of all the ways to eat soba, these are the top 5 most popular ways to eat it:

Number 5: Kamo Nanban Soba

This is a variety of kakesoba cooked with duck meat and green onion. Because it's made with rich broth and duck meat, it's very filling!

Kamo Nanban Soba
Kamo Nanban Soba

Number 4: Tororo Soba (Yamakake)

This is a variety of kakesoba served topped with grated Japanese and Chinese yams. Both hot and cold varieties are popular with this type of soba. The sticky texture and the flavor of the yams go well with the soba, and it also fills you up nicely.

Tororo Soba (Yamakake)
Tororo Soba (Yamakake)

Number 3: Kakesoba

This variation is a warm soup with warm soba noodles in it, eaten with whatever condiments you like, such as green onions and shichimi spices. Many restaurants serve it for around just 300 yen, so it's a favorite of Japanese office workers.

Kakesoba
Kakesoba

Number 2: Tempura Soba

Soba and tempura go great together, and popular tempura choices are seafood like shrimp and seasonal vegetables! Since soba is so low-calorie, you can rest easy even when eating some delicious tempura! It's basically killing two birds with one stone! (※Actually, adding together the calories from low-calorie soba and tempura comes out to around 600 calories, so be aware if you are on a diet!)

Tempura Soba
Tempura Soba

Number 1: Zarusoba

Zarusoba is the most popular way to prepare soba noodles!
This is the best way to eat soba if you want to enjoy the fragrance of the buckwheat itself. First, without dipping into the sauce, try eating the soba alone as-is! Enjoy the flavor and fragrance of the soba!
I also recommend enjoying it with things like wasabi and green onion partway through eating as well.

Zarusoba
Zarusoba

Manners for Eating Soba in Japan

Soba is one of Japan's representative traditional dishes, but unlike kaiseki course meals, there are no rules for eating soba.
Rather than being manners to follow, there are tricks to enjoying your soba to the fullest.

※The following manners mainly apply to cold soba dishes

How to Eat Soba
How to Eat Soba

1) Eat the first bite without dipping the noodles into anything. (If dipping sauce is served with the soba, with zarusoba, etc.)

Soba served at soba restaurants is made to be easy for customers to eat. If you eat the first bite without dipping it into any sauce, you can really enjoy the sweetness and fragrance of the soba. In particular, you can enjoy the most concentrated flavor in soba from the end of October through November, when buckwheat is in season.

2) You can make noises while eating soba

In general, making sounds while you eat is poor manners, but making noise as you slurp your soba is a generally accepted practice. This is because it helps you to enjoy the feel of the soba going down smoothly and the flavor of the dipping sauce. If you slurp the soba as you eat it, you pull in air at the same time, making the fragrance of the soba more noticeable.
Remember this the next time you have soba, and try slurping the noodles!

3) Only 1/3rd of the soba should be dipped in sauce (in the case of soba that comes with a dipping sauce, like zarusoba)

The dipping sauce for soba is seasoned with strong flavors like soy sauce and bonito flakes, so if you dip all of the soba in, the noodles' flavor will be overpowered by the sauce.

4) Do not bite through the soba you pick up with your chopsticks

In Japan, there's a saying that goes "True Edokko (people born and raised in Edo) don't bite their soba." This means that people from Edo (now Tokyo) don't bite through the middle of their soba noodles they've started to eat. It's considered unsightly to return the soba noodles you've already picked up with chopsticks and then bitten through to your bowl.

A picture is worth a thousand words! Please take a look at this video introducing the proper way to eat soba.

Popular Soba Restaurants and Chains

Now I've introduced to you how to eat soba and the manners involved, so next I will introduce you to some recommended popular soba restaurants and chains.

Famous Soba Chain Restaurants Across Japan

Recommended Soba Restaurants

Soba Trivia You’ll Want to Know!

Let's go over a summary of things you'll want to know before eating soba!

Do you need wasabi when you eat soba?

When eating soba, there are many restaurants where wasabi is available as a condiment. I've never eaten wasabi with my soba, so I'm a bit perplexed as to why it's available.

Soba and Wasabi
Soba and Wasabi

Of course, if you want to use wasabi, that's perfectly fine!
In the past, spicy grated daikon was used as a condiment for soba, and so wasabi became a replacement condiment when daikon was unavailable. There's also a theory that it became a condiment for soba for those who don't like the smell of bonito stock.
As such, wasabi has become a common condiment for soba.

What's the difference between soba at the supermarket and soba from a specialty restaurant?

If you buy soba to make yourself from the supermarket, it'll cost around 100 yen, but soba from a specialty restaurant costs around 1000 yen. Aside from the labor costs, the cost difference primarily comes from the quality of the soba itself. Soba noodles sold at the supermarket are about 30% buckwheat flour and 70% regular flour.

Soba Noodles Sold at a Supermarket
Soba Noodles Sold at a Supermarket

At a soba specialty restaurant, you can enjoy 100% buckwheat "Juwari Soba" or 80% buckwheat "Ni-hachi Soba." There's no real answer to whether Juwari Soba or Ni-hachi Soba is the most delicious. Juwari Soba has a deep flavor and fragrance, but it can be dry and a bit tough. Ni-hachi Soba isn't quite as flavorful or fragrant as Juwari Soba, but it feels great going down and has good texture.

Why do Japanese people eat soba when they move?

Long ago there was a custom in Japan to bring soba with you when you went to introduce yourself to a new neighbor.
In Japanese, "soba" is pronounced the same as the word for "next to," so it came to also have the meaning of "closeness." It came to carry the meaning of "I've moved nearby" and "may we have a lasting relationship" when given to someone.

However, nowadays there are a lot of simple products to give out as introductory gifts like sweets and towels rather than soba, so not many Japanese people know the meaning behind giving away soba. However, the custom of "eating soba when you move" is still famous.

Why do Japanese eat toshikoshi (New Year’s) soba?

Japan also has the tradition of eating toshikoshi soba on New Year's Eve, not just soba when moving! Soba is long and thin, so it's said that the custom came from wishing for a long life. Also, because buckwheat is easy to cut while eating, the custom also carries the meaning of letting go of the year's hardships.
Since soba noodles are long, they're used to represent wishing for longevity, and by eating it all in one go without biting through the noodles you're putting in the effort to follow through with things like work, making it a lucky dish with auspicious omens built in.

When is the "season" for eating soba?

Buckwheat flour is made from the seeds of buckwheat plants, which are harvested in November, so November is the perfect time to eat delicious soba! Soba's flavor and aroma are the best in autumn. During this season, many soba specialty restaurants will put up signs for "Shin-soba," or soba made from freshly harvested buckwheat, and treat their customers to some especially delicious soba.

November, the Harvest Time for Fresh Buckwheat
November, the Harvest Time for Fresh Buckwheat

If you visit Japan during November, be sure to try some fragrant and delicious shin-soba!