Buckwheat soba noodles are healthy and easy to prepare, but what is in that dipping sauce they come with at Japanese restaurants?
This post contains affiliate links. Please read the disclosures for further details.
The answer can be found in The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo.
Traditional Soba Noodle Sauce – Tsukejiru
The traditional sauce is called “tsukejiru” in Japan and is made of 2 things:
- Kaeshi – A mixture of soy sauce, tamari, and sugar that is made a week ahead to let the flavors meld. Traditionalists require this melding time.
- Dashi – A fish broth made of bonito flakes, kelp, and water.
These two items are then heated together with additional bonito flakes to make the final sauce.
Quick ‘n Easy Soba Noodles Sauce
Goal: A homemade soba noodle dipping sauce that tastes better than a store bought version that is quick and easy to prepare.
This recipe eliminates the time required for the traditional melding of soy sauces and dashi broths into a one-pot version that can be eaten the same day.
This is accomplished via:
- Mirin – for the sugar component that has additional flavor from the alcohol
- Soy sauce – for the savory component
- Bonito flakes – for the fish flavor component
Since mirin contains alcohol, it is simmered with water for about a minute to burn off the harsh alcohol flavor. You need the water to thin out the sauce.
Then soy sauce and bonito are added. It should steep for about 10-15 minutes before straining and cooling completely.
Make it Vegan
To make this vegan, you substitute a rich mushroom and kelp stock instead of water.
Buckwheat is Gluten-Free but Soba is usually not
Buckwheat, by itself, is not a grain. Since it doesn’t have gluten, it is difficult to stretch it into a noodle.
You can find 100% buckwheat soba noodles, however, many manufacturers will add some wheat or yam starch to make the dough pliable. This also results in a chewier noodle.
Buckwheat flour is also more expensive so adding other starches makes it more economical to produce. More buckwheat flour will result in a darker, nuttier noodle, and you can compare the color of the noodles in different brands.
Soba is eaten on NYE for Long Life
This cold soba noodle dish is eaten on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve. As in other Asian cultures, the long, thin noodles represent a long life with extended happiness.
These end of year noodles are called “toshikoshi” soba, which means “cross the year” soba noodles.
Traditional Serving Method for Soba
Soba noodles would traditionally be laid on bamboo mats to let excess moisture drain from the cold noodles. They would be served with following accompaniments on the side to mix into your sauce bowl:
- grated daikon
- seaweed nori strips
- sliced green onion
Cook soba noodles in about 5 minutes
Save that Pasta Water
While many cooks would save the pasta cooking water for Italian pasta as part of the sauce, the cooking water from the soba noodles is actually saved and served in a tea pot.
It can be drunk as “tea” or mixed into the leftover sauce bowl for soup.
Soba can be cooked ahead of time
Because it contains less gluten than an Italian pasta, the soba will not get too sticky. You don’t need to add oil to the noodles to keep them from sticking.
Instead, leave them to drain the colander and refresh with cold water to loosen before serving. They can also be left in the refrigerator for a few hours.
History of Buckwheat in Japan
The Chinese introduced buckwheat to Japan, and by the 8th century, Japan was growing buckwheat along with rice and millet.
Buckwheat soba noodles first appeared in the late 16th century and have since become a fast food staple.
Healthy Fast Food
Buckwheat soba noodles are favorite among the busy lunch time crowd in Japan. They are cold and can be slurped down quickly (and very loudly).
Loud slurping is so common in Japan and not at all a sign of poor taste or manners.
This recipe for soba noodles sauce is easy, fat free, and pairs with wonderfully healthy and nutritious buckwheat pasta. It should be in everyone’s repertoire for a quick lunch or special year end meal.
More Quick ‘n Easy Recipes:
Cold Soba Noodles with Homemade Dipping Sauce
- 4 bundles buckwheat soba noodles about 19 oz of noodles
Homemade Dipping Sauce
- 1/2 c mirin
- 1/2 c water
- 1/2 c loosely packed bonito flakes
- 3 Tb soy sauce
- finely grated daikon
- shredded nori seaweed strips
- Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add soba noodles and cook according to package directions, about 4-5 minutes. Drain and cool with cold running water or ice.
- Bring 1/2 c mirin and 1/2 c water to a boil. Simmer for 30 seconds to remove the alcohol. Turn off heat and add bonito flakes. Let sit for 10 minutes. Strain and add soy sauce.
- Serve noodles and dipping sauce in separate dishes. Add garnishes as desired.