Bucking the noodle trend

For a healthy, hearty meal, look no further than this well-loved ingredient and the benefits it can bring to your diet.

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Set foot into any Japanese restaurant and over the sounds of chopsticks clicking and sake cups clinking, you’re almost guaranteed to hear a chorus of satisfied slurps echoing through the room. That’s because noodles are practically a way of life in Japan, and there’s no shortage of types to choose from. Whether you’re craving rich, creamy ramen or thick, slippery udon—or perhaps light, refreshing somen—you’ll have no trouble finding a hot or cold bowl to suit any season. But there’s a noodle that stands out as healthier, easier to prepare and more versatile than all the rest: soba.

Soba noodles are made from buckwheat our and have been a staple in Japanese cuisine for centuries. Their origin dates back to the Edo period of 1603–1868 when they were a favourite among urbanites in the region that is modern-day Tokyo. In Edo society, freshly made soba was traditionally enjoyed in the year-end months as autumn transitioned into winter and our harvesting was at its best. In fact, one day in particular—December 13, or Susu-harai-shiki (“soot-sweeping day”)—became synonymous with eating soba. People would spend the day cleaning their homes in preparation for the approaching new year and then treat themselves to a hearty serving of soba for dinner. Today, it remains customary across Japan to eat toshi- koshi soba (noodles “from one year to another”) on New Year’s Eve.

There are several reasons why this noodle is so notable. First, buckwheat is an uncomplicated crop. It can be harvested throughout much of the year, winning over even the most stubborn soil—like that of Shikoku Island, where few crops grow but buckwheat ourishes, making the area famous for its soba. Second, soba noodles are easy to prepare, requiring just two ingredients (buckwheat our and water) to make from scratch and under five minutes to boil. Finally, buckwheat is a gluten-free grain packed with protein, fibre, iron, antioxidants and essential nutrients like disease-fighting thiamine. Low in calories but bursting with nutritional benefits, soba is an ideal addition to just about any diet. (However, please note that buckwheat allergies can be quite deadly, so anyone who hasn’t tried buckwheat before may want to get tested before digging in!)

Readily available in Japanese restaurants and Asian supermarkets, soba can be prepared, served and enjoyed in an almost unlimited number of ways. Chow down on chilled soba topped with nori and dipped in a savoury side dish made of dashi, soy sauce and mirin. On a cold day, order a big bowl of soba noodles cooked in a hot broth and garnished with onions, chili powder and a slice or two of kamaboko (fish cake). With summer in full swing, a colourful, ultra-healthy soba salad of cold noodles, sautéed tofu, sweet potatoes, carrots, avocado and peppers sprinkled with a dash of hemp hearts sounds delicious. Get creative, and then get slurping!