Soba directly translated from Japanese means buckwheat, but it has come to refer primarily to the traditional thin Japanese noodles made from buckwheat flour. The dough is rolled into thin squares and then cut into noodles. In Japan, soba noodles are served many ways. They are served either chilled with a dipping sauce or in hot broth as a noodle soup. Sometimes you’ll find soba served as an appetizer or served with a sauce. Sometimes soba is mixed with other noodles, like udon, for a variety of textures.
Soba is a favorite inexpensive fast food often served in public places in Japan, but they are also served at more upscale expensive restaurants. And soba noodles are, of course, always served at home.
As with most Japanese foods, soba is usually eaten with chopsticks. Contrary to the eating culture of most Americans and Europeans it is, in fact, considered polite to slurp noodles noisily and with great gusto. This method is helpful when eating hot noodles – sucking the noodles into the mouth from a distance cools them. But, times change, and you can now eat soba noodles more quietly without fear of offending the Japanese.
Soba noodles are often served chilled and drained in the summer, and hot in the winter mixed into a delicious soup stock (dashi). Seasonal toppings are added that bring balance to the dish.
Hot soba is often served as a noodle soup in a bowl of hot soup (tsuyu) of a thinner consistency than the dipping sauce used with cold soba. Popular garnishes are a Japanese 7-spice mix (schichimi) and sliced scallion.
Adding soba noodles to a hot soup can alter the consistency so many prefer eating them cold. Chilled soba is often served garnished with dried nori seaweed served with a dipping sauce (soba tsuyu). Soba tsuyu is made of soup stock (dashi), soy sauce (shoyu), and rice wine or cooking sake (mirin). You may find it served with wasabi, the hot green mustard, or with scallions and grated ginger mixed into the tsuyu.