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.
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.
Take the plate off of the dipping cup, add your desired amount of wasabi and leeks to the tsuyu, and mix in the cup.
When your soba is served, pick up some soba noodles with your chopsticks, dip it directly into the tsuyu, and slurp it up!
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.)
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!