Slurping @ Soba

I have been enjoying soba at the same soba shop for 32 years. What is nice, no foreigners, just some noisy Japanese from time to time. This is my son’s favorite restaurant and after trying numerous others, he always asks for his mori. I share with him the memories of the finest soba traditions, so he can enjoy the benefits of growing up with an idea about quality, tradition and integrity, a passion of knowing how to appreciate simple foods.

Sadly tori-wasa, raw chicken has been banned, so for the time being no more. I guess this ban will be lifted in a year or so after the Japanese can control domestic issues associated with chicken flu.

There are two types of cold soba noodles served, Mori and Zaru. The mori is buckwheat, a slightly darker noodle, made from whole-grain soba flour, this type has a fuller flavor and the color is darker, and the zaru is made from refined soba flour, which usually contains only the center of the grain. It has a lighter color and a relatively subtle flavor in comparison. Customers enjoy both types of soba by slurping the soba with mentsuyu, the dipping sauce.

The reason you slurp is obvious, and embarrassing for many foreigners. In the west we avoid making noises when we eat. Well that is not necessarily true, some Europeans burp at dinner, a family tradition mostly and not necessarily carried out in public. In Denmark and in Russia it can happen that people burp. Some people in China consider burping, farting and spitting to banish bad spirits.

So back to slurping; why and how. You slurp because it helps accelerate the aromas and aerate the tastes, in the case of the hot soba, just one slurp is hot, and in cold soba, it’s cold. The slurping starts after you place a mouthful of soba noodle into your sauce, raise it to your lips, do not tilt the cup, you slurp the noodles assisting them into your mouth with your chopsticks. The slurping takes place at the opening of the mouth between the sauce cup and your lips. This enhances the overall taste, the same way you handle a wine in your mouth.

The dipping sauce is integral to all soba and there are two types of sauces, referred to as mentsuyu: kaketsuyu, which is poured hot over boiled noodles to make noodle soup, and tsuketsuyu which literally means “dipping soup” is for chilled soba noodles.

The cold sauce is accompanied by some raw sliced white and green onion, and fresh wasabi, a domestically grown herb that is used to spice the affair. These two can be added to the dipping sauce according to your own taste.

In many soba shops zaru and mori are distinguished by sliced nori, (dried seaweed) added a top, as seen in the photo below. In this case, my soba shop doesn’t add any seaweed and leaves it up to the customer. I also add some Shichimi tōgarashi, a mixed red spice, it gives another dimension of taste.

Now think about it; the sophistication of soba noodle, it isn’t glutenous, or heavy at all in your stomach. In fact buckwheat is gluten-free. With all the hype about vegetarian and gluten-free diets, it is surprising there isn’t more discussion about buckwheat, a grain substitute that, despite its name, is naturally gluten-free.

Buckwheat benefits are superb; iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, copper and zinc. Buckwheat is also a good source of a powerful flavonoid, rutin, which has been shown to protect against blood clots. It also contains omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.

Add to a refreshing homemade sauce; onions and wasabi can be added to give a dimension of taste to the base sauce. Then you can add some seaweed and red spice to give your soba another dimension of taste. A food that seems so simple is complex in taste, balanced and delicious. The well-blended sweetness and smoky flavors of the tsuketsuyu are harmonized just like a Burgundy wine.