How to Eat Soba

It seems like it would be so simple.  Pick up soba, put it in your mouth, chew, and swallow.  But just like many things in Japan with a history or tradition, there’s a proper way to eat soba.  Although there are hot soba dishes, truly good soba is enjoyed cold or chilled served on top of a zaru (a bamboo strainer).  And just like pasta, it’s served ‘al dente’ so that each bite of soba is chewy.

Soba dipping bowl - wasabi and green onions served over a bowl of tsuyu

Typically before the soba arrives, a server will bring you a cup filled with tsuyu (pronounced: tszoo-you; soba dipping sauce) covered with a small plate of wasabi and leeks.

Soba Dipping Sauce - wasabi and green onions. How to eat soba.

Take the plate off of the dipping cup, add your desired amount of wasabi and leeks to the tsuyu, and mix in the cup.

Soba Tsuyu with wasabi and green onions

When your soba is served, pick up some soba noodles with your chopsticks, dip it directly into the tsuyu, and slurp it up!

Dipping soba in tsuyu

It’s proper form to slurp up your noodles noisily, inhaling air while you eat.  Slurping is supposed to maximize the taste of food, allowing the flavors to spread throughout your mouth.  It’s a similar concept to aerating wine in your mouth to unlock the layers of flavors in the wine.  (It’s ok if you don’t feel up to this.  Personally, I can’t do it without splashing tsuyu all over my face.)

Soba-yu poured into tsuyu

When all the soba is finished, ask for soba-yu (pronounced: so-bah you) if it hasn’t been given to you already.  Soba-yu is the water that the soba was cooked in and is extremely nutritious.  Pour a bit into your dipping cup along with the remainder of your tsuyu, and drink it like a tea.  Once you enjoy a good soba the proper way, you’ll be on your way to eating like a local!

12 thoughts on “How to Eat Soba

  1. Oh my God. Now I’m craving for Soba like hell and can’t think of anything else. And in my boring little home town there isn’t even a sushi place or anything where I could get something remotely japanese to eat :( I want soba so bad now :P

  2. OMG! That’s what the red pot of hazy water was!! A friend and I had no idea because there were no cups so I just tasted it plain and was weirded out. Now I’ll know for next time and look like a pro!

    • Hahaha Yay! Glad I could help :) I only pick up these things from my husband and family who are Japanese. Otherwise, I would have been confused just like you!

  3. Pingback: Udon: It’s All About the Broth | oh my omiyage

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