The popularity that Japanese culture has acquired in the West in recent years has allowed many of the dishes and ingredients of its traditional cuisine to no longer be so unknown to us. Sushi in its different varieties continues to be the star of Japanese cuisine, but we have also become familiar with other products and preparations, not only in restaurants but also in our private kitchens. In this way, it is no longer so difficult for us to find specific ingredients of Japanese cuisine on the market, as it is the case with soba noodles.
Soba (蕎麦) is the Japanese word for the buckwheat or buckwheat, but it is also used to refer to long, thin noodles made with this cereal flour. The proportion of buckwheat flour can vary depending on each type and manufacturer, almost always combining it with a small part of common wheat flour. In our eyes they may remind us of spaghetti, but with their characteristic dark color and a flat, not rounded profile.
Origin and cultural importance
Soba noodles are one of the most popular and most consumed products in all of Japan for centuries, the recipes and ways of serving it vary depending on the area and the time of year. It is known for sure that various soba dishes have been consumed for more than 400 years, although the exact origin is not entirely clear. Recent research places the arrival of buckwheat in Japan through present-day Korea around the eleventh century, while the noodle-making technique would have been imported from China. However, the manufacture and cooking of soba noodles have an exclusively Japanese origin, today imported to the whole world.
The consumption of soba became popular especially during the 20th century, especially in large cities such as Tokyo. It is estimated that there are more than 30,000 restaurants specializing in this pasta throughout the country, and more than 5,000 stores are concentrated in the capital. It has become a kind of fast food highly appreciated by people of all ages, as they offer a fast, cheap and nutritious food. But you can also find traditional and more elaborate soba dishes in quality restaurants at high prices.
One of the advantages that soba noodles offer is their versatility when it comes to tasting them, and that is that the Japanese adapt their cuisine to the time of year. In this way, There are two basic ways to consume soba: hot and cold. During winter it is more common to taste it accompanied by a hot broth, or as if it were a soup with different ingredients on top. When the heat arrives, it is preferred to take it chilled, served with bowls of cold sauces for dipping and different seasonal ingredients as an accompaniment.
The importance of these noodles in Japan reflected in some cultural traditions that include the term soba in their names. The Toshikoshi soba It is a hot dish that is traditionally consumed on New Year’s Eve, to say goodbye to the year and welcome the next; there are different variants and the goal is to have a prosperous new year. Another custom, more obsolete, is the Hikkoshi soba, “Moving soba”. It consists of giving noodles to neighbors when a move is made as a sign of friendship, since soba (側) also means “next to” or “near.”
Properties and nutritional value
Originally from Asia, buckwheat or buckwheat is not actually a cereal itself, since it is not a grass plant but belongs to the polygonaceae family. Their special characteristics make it a nutritionally very interesting product since it has properties that differentiate it from common wheat, and offers many possibilities in the kitchen, both in grain and in flour.
It is a source of complex carbohydrates that stands out for its high protein content and for being a source of essential amino acids, especially lysine. It also has B vitamins in a higher percentage than other whole grains, and it is a good source of linoleic acid. Also noteworthy is the presence of minerals, especially potassium and magnesium. One of its main characteristics is that It is gluten-free, but celiacs should be careful When it comes to consuming soba noodles since, as has been pointed out, they are usually made with a part of wheat flour.
How to prepare soba noodles correctly
Basically soba noodles are cooked like any other pasta, but you have to take into account some peculiarities in order to fully enjoy their special flavor and texture. There are two important things to pay attention to: cooking time and subsequent rinsing.
The amounts will depend on the number of diners and the way in which they are going to be consumed, but normally between 80 and 100 grams of pasta per person are estimated. You have to put a large amount of water to boil in a large container, without salt. The sobas are added, ensuring that they are well immersed in the liquid, and cook for a short time, usually no more than five minutes. The time will vary depending on the manufacturer, so better to follow the instructions on the package.
Then they are drained over a strainer or similar and immersed in a container with cold water, which will begin to cloud. When they are cold, you have to stir well to get rid of the starch. Drain and rinse until the water runs clear. They will be ready to serve, both for hot and cold recipes.
Until a few years ago it was difficult to find soba noodles in our country, but luckily that is changing. They usually have in specialized shops, Asian stores, import stores and also increasingly in herbalists and organic product stores. They can also be obtained without problems through the many online stores that currently exist specializing in exotic products.
If you haven’t tried these soba noodles I encourage you to give them a try. It is a different type of pasta from the one we may be used to, but its flavor, texture and properties make it a very interesting option to vary in our kitchen. Especially recommended for lovers of Asian and Japanese cuisine.
Photos | Chris 73 on Wikimedia Commons, yoppy on Flickr
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