Soba Noodles: More than Meets the Eye
If asked “what is my favorite Japanese dish?” I always tell people it’s soba noodles. I’ve never given much thought to the process behind the making of the noodles themselves. What actually goes into the making of Japanese soba noodles? Preparing this traditional Japanese favorite, although a very common and simple-looking dish, is not so easy. It is a tedious process pleat with precise calculations and fine movements. I had the pleasure of learning how to make soba noodles from a fourth-degree master soba chef, Mr. Numata, who runs a place called the Misaki Soba Kobo (workshop) in Chiba Prefecture's Isumi City.
As one the highest-ranking soba masters in Isumi City, and one of only about 1400 soba chefs in Japan currently at or above the fourth-degree level, Mr. Numata is very particular and precise when it comes to making soba. He told me that the reason he opened this class instead of a restaurant was because he wanted to pass on the techniques of making soba and preserve its traditions. He teaches the fine art of making soba to classes of curious admirers at his shop in Chiba.
The ambiance of Mr. Numata's shop really added to the experience. The smell of the wooden cooking tools and utensils, the simplicity of a traditional Japanese work space, made it a truly special experience. As for the process itself, it started out by thoroughly mixing the soba powder (the buckwheat flour) and the wheat flour which acts as the binding agent. From there, Mr. Numata guided us through the process of moistening the powder and working the dough into a slab. We then began to thin out the slab into a sheet, which we could cut into actual noodles. One small miscalculation like adding too much water, or not thinning out the dough enough could lead to subpar noodles. Mr. Numata stressed that we pay attention to detail and focus on each movement and step in the process. Japanese craftsmen are known throughout the world for their painstaking detail, and Mr. Numata personified this image.
I couldn't believe how delicious my noodles turned out! Even Mr. Numata gave me his stamp of approval. I can't wait to go back for round two someday! If you're interested, the course only costs ¥3,000, and his shop is open for courses in both the morning and afternoon.
Access: A 15-minute walk or a 4-minute ride by car from Taito Station on the JR Sotobo Line.