A to Wa of Japan: Week 16

It’s time for A to Wa of Japan again! Last week’s post was about things beginning with せ (se) and we looked at Senso-ji (浅草寺). This week we are looking at things beginning with そ (so). A big thank you to everyone who joined in with suggestions this week: 

Jay Dee suggested soba (そば / a kind of noodle), soki soba (ソーキーそば / a traditional noodle dish from Okinawa), somen (素麺、ソーメン / a kind of noodle), Sogo (株式会社そごう / department store), and Soma (相馬 / a city in Fukushima); UK Seikatsu suggested soba, somen, sokuseki-ramen (即席ラーメン / instant noodles), soki soba, and soft cream (ソフトクリーム / a type of ice cream which is much softer than usual ice cream, like a Mr Whippy); Zooming Japan suggested soba, Soja (総社 / a city in Okayama), and sotsugyo (卒業 / graduation); Japan Australia suggested soba, Natsume Soseki (夏目 漱石 / a novelist), sotsugyo, Soramachi (東京ソラマチ / the shopping area around Tokyo Skytree), and Sony (ソニー株式会社 / Sony Corporation); and lovelycomplex22 suggested soran bushi (ソーラン節 / a famous traditional song).

Again, I don’t have much time for research this week (I’m leaving London tomorrow, and have been packing all day), so I’m just going to choose one topic and write briefly…

Soba (そば)

Soba is a type of thin buckwheat noodle:

Toshikoshi Soba (New Year's Soba)

Soba noodles are usually served either chilled with dipping sauce or hot in a broth. The first time I tried cold soba I wasn’t sure if I would like it, but actually I found myself eating cold soba all the time throughout the humid summers in Japan, and longed for it when I returned to England. Hot soba in broth makes a healthy, warming winter dish, too.

Whilst expensive restaurants do sell soba dishes, soba is often quite a cheap dish, and something that can be bought easily in convenience stores, supermarkets, and even from street stalls as a kind of fast food.

There are lots of different dishes that use soba noodles. Cold soba dishes are traditionally served on a bamboo tray called a zaru.

Zaru soba

Zaru soba

(Image source)

Chilled soba can be garnished with nori (seaweed), and usually comes with a dipping sauce called soba tsuyu, made from dashi (stock), soy sauce and mirin.

Hot soba is usually served as a noodle soup, with various toppings and other ingredients. Here’s a list of types of hot soba dishes, taken from Wikipedia:

Kake soba 掛け蕎麦: Hot soba in broth topped with thinly sliced scallion, and perhaps a slice of kamaboko (fish cake).

Kitsune soba きつね蕎麦 (“fox soba”, in Kantō) or たぬき蕎麦 Tanuki soba (“raccoon dog soba”, in Kansai): Topped with aburaage (deep-fried tofu).

Soki soba ソーキーそば: An Okinawan specialty, topped with soki (stewed pork).

Tanuki soba (in Kantō) or Haikara soba ハイカラ蕎麦 (in Kansai): Topped with tenkasu (bits of deep-fried tempura batter).

Tempura soba 天麩羅蕎麦: Topped with tempura, a large shrimp is frequently used, but vegetables are also popular. Some of soba venders use kakiage for this dish. And this is often called Tensoba.

Tsukimi soba 月見蕎麦 (“moon-viewing soba”): Topped with raw egg, which poaches in the hot soup.

Tororo soba とろろ蕎麦 or Yamakake soba 山かけ蕎麦: Topped with tororo, the puree of yamaimo (a potato-like vegetable with a mucilaginous texture).

Wakame soba わかめ蕎麦: Topped with wakame seaweed.

Soba-yu 蕎麦湯: This is warm water that boiled soba, much like broth. People drink dipping sauce mixed with soba-yu to enjoy the flavor of soba; however, there is little or no nutritional value.

Nameko soba なめこ蕎麦: Topped with nameko mushroom.

Sansai soba 山菜蕎麦 (“mountain vegetables soba”): Topped with sansai, or wild vegetables such as warabi, zenmai and takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Kamonanban 鴨南蛮: Topped with duck meat and negi.

Currynanban カレー南蛮: Hot soba in curry flavored broth topped with chicken/pork and thinly sliced scallion.

Nishin soba 鰊(にしん)蕎麦: Topped with migaki nishin 身欠きニシン, or dried fish of the Pacific herring.


A soba dish in Kamakura

As well as the dishes listed above, there is a type of hot soba dish called toshikoshi soba which is served on News Year’s Eve. Here’s a recipe I used to make it earlier this year.

Toshikoshi Soba (New Year's Soba)

Toshikoshi Soba (New Year’s Soba)

If you haven’t tried soba before, give it a go! And if you have the chance to try chilled soba in the hot summer, I’d highly recommend it!


Next week we’ll start with た (ta), so please leave a comment below suggesting a topic for things beginning with た. Topics can be anything, as long as they are connected to Japan – food, places, people, characters, whatever you want to hear about! Just remember that the words you suggest must be Japanese (for example, you can’t suggest ‘taste’ (flavour) for ‘ta’, because ‘taste’ in Japanese is ‘aji’, but you could suggest ‘Takayama’, which is a city in Gifu Prefecture.

I look forward to hearing your suggestions!  (*^_^)v

16 thoughts on “A to Wa of Japan: Week 16

  1. I love sanuki udon the best. I prefer udon to soba, but I like eating soba as well, of course! 😉

    Suggestions for next week:
    Takamatsu (Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku), Takayama (Gifu Prefecture), Taiko (drums)


  2. I love soba! One of my favourites is Nagano Soba Noodles (shinshu soba) made with local buckwheat grown in the fields and pure mountain springwater. A few suggestions for next week are: Tanuki, Tanbo, Takayama, and Tateyama.


  3. My first summer in Japan, I ate zarusoba so often!
    My suggestions: Tanabata, tarako, Takarazuka, tanpopo, takuan, tatsuta, tantanmen, tara. I tried being different than everyone else.


  4. I’m Udon lover, but Soba is good choice!

    Suggestion for next week ’た’
    Takoyaki(たこ焼き), Tai-yaki(タイヤキ or タイ焼き / Japanese fish-shaped sweet/cake?), Tamagotchi(たまごっち/ Japanese potable digital pet game by Bandai), Tako(凧 / Japanese Kite), Tanabata(七夕 / a star festival, 7th of July), Tamate-bako(玉手箱 / Origami model featured in Japanese folk tale), Tamagawa(多摩川 / Major river in Yamanashi, Kanagawa and Tokyo), Tigers Mask(タイガーマスク / one of famous character in Japanese pro wrestling Manga. This character from Manga became one of famous wrester in real world in 1980’s)


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