The main reason why many tourists from abroad have visited Japan in recent years is because they would like to enjoy authentic Japanese food, especially ramen. Ramen is also my favorite food, but Japanese usually eat not only ramen but also other noodles: udon, soba, pasta, etc. On this post, let me introduce udon and soba.
Udon is a thick, white noodle made from wheat flour. It is easy-to-digest and a typical food for commoners. This traditional noodle is served in both hot and cold dishes.
For udon, we add salted water to wheat flour, knead it, roll it out thin, cut into strips, and boil it. There are many ways to eat udon. Generally, we add hot soy-flavored broth to udon.
Depending on the ingredients on top of the udon, the names of udon dishes change.
The most common udon is “kitsune udon,” topped with deep-fried tofu. “Tsukimi udon” is topped with a raw egg. “Ebi-ten udon” is topped with prawn tempura. “Nabeyaki udon” is a winter favorite. It is cooked in a broth with ingredients such as eggs, shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, and slices of steamed fish-paste cake.
It is said that a renowned priest Kukai, who studied in China, brought how to make udon to Japan. People say the most popular and tasty udon is Sanuki udon made in Kagawa, Kukai’s birthplace. Kishi-men in Nagoya and Inaniwa udon in Akita are also famous.
On the other hand, soba is a thin, brownish noodle made from buckwheat flour, regular flour, taro root, and egg white. It is highly nutritious and a typical food for commoners. This traditional noodle is served in both hot and cold dishes.
The soba dough is kneaded and rolled thin, and then cut into strips. Because 100% buckwheat soba noodles tend to break easily, many restaurants add some wheat flour when making their noodles. The percentage of buckwheat flour typically ranges between 30% and 100%.
Note also that there are a few noodle dishes named soba that are not made with buckwheat noodles, such as yaki-soba or fried noodles, and soki-soba or a noodle dish from Okinawa. But soba usually refers to buckwheat noodles. Because soba is long and thin, it is said to symbolize a long life. So even today, the custom of eating soba on New Year’s Eve remains.
Soba is a popular fast-food diet although some people can’t eat it due to soba allergy. You can eat soba at a reasonable price throughout Japan, but people say the most famous soba is Shinshu soba made in Nagano.
In addition, you can experience soba-making at some places such as Jindai-ji Temple in Tokyo, which is also famous for its daruma doll market.
It is a Japanese custom to make some noise to slurp your noodle. By doing so, you can taste it better. I hope you will give udon or soba a try during your stay in Japan.