Soba noodles; while a popular form of Japanese cuisine, the actual flavors and styles of these beloved noodles change dramatically between regions. In Kyoto, soba noodles are known for using local ingredients and a tsyuyu dipping sauce that tastes distinctly of dashi stock.
In this article, the Kyoto residents of Sharing Kyoto introduce you to everything from the various styles of soba noodles to their favorite places for both hot and cold soba!
Perfect For Hot Summer Days in Kyoto – Cold Soba
Cold soba noodles in Kyoto are known for their use of local ingredients and tsuyu dipping sauce made with dashi stock. Many times when you eat soba in Kyoto, you’ll be able to enjoy both a dashi-like flavor from the light dipping sauce and the smooth texture of the noodles.
However, above all else, the most beloved part of cold soba noodles in Kyoto has to be its crisp, refreshingness that helps you brave the hot and humid summer months.
In June, Kyoto moves into the rainy season and sees a jump in not only temperature but humidity as well. In July and August, the ancient capital is known in Japan for reaching famously high temperatures. And while September may mark the end of summer in Japan, the lingering heat maintains its suffocating grip on the city.
These two versions of soba give you the most unadulterated, direct flavors of the buckwheat.
zaru and seiro are the names of the bamboo dishes on which the soba noodles are served, with seiro being the Japanese name for bamboo steamers.
In the late 1600s, steamed soba began gaining traction, and the name seiro-soba is a holdover from that time. However, although most soba today is boiled, it is still served on a bamboo steamer.
In reality, there isn’t much of a difference between zaru-soba and seiro-soba. However, zaru-soba does have one feature that separates it from seiro-soba, and that is the fact that it’s sprinkled with finely cut dried seaweed.
These two types of soba noodles are accompanied by a dipping sauce called tsuyu. Pick up a few noodles with your chopsticks, dip them in the tsuyu sauce to about half - 80 percent of the way and slurp them up (it’s said that six noodles are the perfect amount).
One defining feature of Kyoto soba is that the tsuyu dipping sauce is made with dashi stock and is on the sweeter side. Once you have finished your noodles, you will be served *soba-yu, which you pour into the remaining tsuyu sauce and drink. This tsuyu/soba-yu mixture allows you to enjoy every last drop of the delicious dashi stock.
Recommended Restaurants for Zaru-soba / Seiro-soba
■ Misoka-an Kawamichiya – 晦庵 河道屋Misoka-an Kawamichiya is one of several well-established veteran soba restaurants in Kyoto. The set of tempura and zaru-soba pictured here is called “Tenzaru.” The tempura is made with seasonal summer vegetables such as eggplant, so is a must-try for those here during summer. Enjoy the tempura by dipping it in the side of tsuyu dipping sauce and watch as it gradually absorbs the umami flavors of the tempura itself. The soba at Misoka-an Kawamichiya is served with a delightful, not too sweet tsuyu dipping sauce, making it our top pick for those new to this type of cold soba noodle.
Dish name: Tenzaru｜天ざる
■ Honke Owariya – 本家尾張屋At Honke Owariya, you can enjoy a Tenzaru set with nihachi-soba, a type of soba made with 80% buckwheat and 20% wheat.
The soba has a pleasant chew to it, which perfectly contrasts with the crunchy batter on the tempura. Honke Owariya also serves a Kyoto summer classic, hamoten – Daggertooth pike conger eel tempura. The period when this species of eel tastes best is incredibly short, so if you find yourself in Kyoto from June to mid-July, then make sure to try it.
Dish name: Hamaten-seiro｜鱧天せいろ
■ Soba Shubo ichii – 蕎麦酒房 櫟At Soba Shubo ichii you can enjoy a tsuyu dipping sauce packed with duck meat and Japanese leeks in their kamoseiro dish. This kamoseiro dish uses a specialty brand of duck meat called Kawachi Kamo, which fills the tsuyu dipping sauce with its meaty juices and makes for an exceptional dish. Soba Shubo ichii also offer an À la carte menu and wide range of alcohol, so is the perfect place for enjoying everything from Japanese sake to a post-drinks bowl of noodles.
Dish name: Kamoseiro｜鴨せいろ
■ Chikuyuuantarouatsumori – 竹邑庵太郎敦盛（あつもり）Chikuyuuantarouatsumori serve a style of seiro-soba called atsumori. This dark-colored soba is steamed and served hot out of the seiro bamboo steamer. This unique seiro-soba is to be enjoyed with the accompanying rich tsuyu dipping sauce that is packed to the brim with Japanese scallions and egg yolk.
We recommend anyone who has grown a little tired of regular soba noodles to challenge themselves and give this dish a try.
Dish name: Atsumori-soba｜あつもりそば
These two types of soba feature either grated mountain yam or Chinese yam poured over a bed of soba and covered in tsuyu dipping sauce.
The name yamakake comes from the Japanese word for mountain yam, yamaimo, and the verb kakeru, which, among many things, means to pour. Tororo, on the other hand, is simply the name of the gooey substance that comes from grating both mountain yam and Chinese yam.
It’s a long-held belief in Japan that eating mountain yam will make you healthier; so much so that it’s even used in Chinese herbal medicines. Thanks to the cold, gooey tororo, the noodles simply slide down your throat, making both of these dishes great for hot, appetite killing summer days.
Many times these dishes will come immersed in dashi filled tsuyu broth. This style is called bukkake. However, sometimes you will also see those which come with the tsuyu on the side, similar to zaru-soba.
Recommended Restaurants for Yamakake-soba / Tororo-soba
■ Kawamichiya Ginka (Yamakake-zarusoba) – 河道屋銀華（山かけざる蕎麦）Kawamichiya Ginka is a long-standing soba restaurant located in downtown Kyoto.
After making your way down the tight alleyway, you’ll come across a big red paper lantern, which will be the sign that you’ve arrived.
On top of the tororo grated yam, you’ll find a cracked egg. Pour the tsuyu into this mixture and begin mixing to make your dipping sauce.
Inside the restaurant, you’ll find a beautifully Kyoto-esque interior decorated with the paper fans of Geisha.
Dish name: Grated Yam Buckwheat Noodles｜とろろざるそば
■ Sanmikouan (Bukkake) – 三味洪庵（ぶっかけ）
Located near the train station of popular tourist area Higashiyama, Sanmikouan is a soba restaurant with rare outdoor terrace seating.
Pour the sticky, white goo that is the tororo allover your soba and enjoy the dish bukkake style. Sanmikouan also sell a range of items in addition to soba, including condiments and tsukudani soy preserved vegetables, so are great as a souvenir shop as well.
Dish name: Tororo-soba｜とろろそば
Oroshi-soba is soba noodles served with grated daikon Japanese white radish. Similar to tororo-soba, oroshi-soba is bukkake-style or accompanied by the tsuyu on the side.
The wasabi-like refreshing punch of the daikon makes oroshi-soba an excellent dish for humid summer days.
Recommended Restaurants for Oroshi-soba
■ Hanamomo (side of tsuyu) – 花もも （つけ）Hanamomo serves delicious thin and chewy soba noodles. The side of grated daikon radish is accompanied by thinly sliced scallions, which are for mixing into the tsuyu dipping sauce.
The mixture isn't overly spicy and goes down well, so we recommend Hanamomo's oroshi-soba to those looking to give this variety of soba a try for the first time.
Dish name: Mizoresoba｜みぞれそば
■ Misoka-an Kawamichiya (bukkake style) – 晦庵河道屋（ぶっかけ）Misoka-an Kawamichiya’s oroshi-soba is served bukkake style, where the tsuyu is poured directly over the noodles.
The tsuyu gradually soaks into the grated daikon, releasing the natural aroma of the radish. This oroshi-soba is quite small, so we recommend only ordering it as a side.
With incredibly refreshing, light flavors, it’s also great as a palate cleanser.
Dish name: Oroshisoba｜おろしそば
Personally, I’m firmly in the cold soba camp. Why? Because the noodles rinsed with freezing cold water get a firm, chewiness that makes them taste so good. Warm soba is good too, but it doesn’t take long for them to start losing their shape, so I don’t order them that often. Living in Kyoto, you often find yourself with no appetite during summer, but on days such as those, nice, cold soba is seriously so delicious. I especially often go for tororo-soba, which is smooth, easy to eat, and packed full of nutrients. Tororo-soba has a texture that you don’t really see overseas so it might be a little off-putting at first, but on a hot summer day, it can’t be beaten. So if you’ve made your way to Kyoto in summer, then definitely challenge yourself and give it a try.
Perfect For Cold Winter Days in Kyoto – Hot Soba
While refreshing on a hot summer’s day, most enduring the freezing cold temperatures of Japan’s ancient capital put down the cold soba in favor of something a little warmer. The savior of the masses during Kyoto’s icy winters, the delicate Kyoto-esque flavors of the broth in hot soba noodles warms both the body and soul.
Knowing the bone-chilling lows of Kyoto winters all too well, we here at Sharing Kyoto have compiled a list of the best warm soba noodles shops that’ll help you brave the cold!
Tori Nanba and Kamo Nanba are bowls of warm soba noodles with a topping of either chicken or duck meat. Thanks to the warm broth not allowing the fat to harden, the bowl simply overflows with the rich umami flavors of the chicken/duck meat.
As the steam rises from the bowl, you’re treated to the delicious aromas of dashi stock combined with those of the juicy slices of poultry meat.
This dish will have you slurping up every last drop of soup even after there are no noodles or ingredients left to speak of.
■ Kawamichiya Ginka (chicken)
Located in downtown Kyoto, Kawamichiya Ginka is a long-standing veteran soba shop.
When heading there, aim for the big red Japanese lantern at the end of the small alley. With a hardy amount of fresh Japanese spring onions, this soba provides a world of different textures and flavors.
Also, with fans gifted by young maiko lining the walls, Kawamichiya Ginka boasts a wonderfully Kyoto-esque atmosphere as well.
■ Ichii (duck)
Soba Shubo Ichii offers Seiro Soba packed with specialty Kawachi Kamo duck meat.
The umami of the high-quality duck can be felt throughout this exquisite bowl of noodles.
Ichii also has an incredible range of Japanese sake and appetizers, meaning that you can enjoy everything up to the last bowl of post-drinks soba at this one noodle shop.
Try their comfortingly warm sake and soba noodles and watch as the winter chills are chased away.
For people in Kyoto, nishin soba is the definition of soul food. This soba is most well known for its unmissable slab of brazed herring sitting smack dab in the middle of the bowl and light dashi soup stock flavors that work to offset the rich flavors of the fish.
Being an entirely landlocked city, the transportation of fresh fish to Kyoto was quite the ordeal back in the day, which lead people to transport their fish by first brazing them or preserving them in vinegar. Combining two of Kyoto’s specialties, soba and brazed herring, nishin soba was born.
If you haven’t already, definitely give this uniquely Kyoto soul food a try!
■ Ebisugawa Tsuruya
Ebisugawa Tsuruya is a soba shop little known to tourists but beloved by locals.
Uniquely thin and pale in color, this soba shop’s noodles skillfully express the feel and atmosphere of their ancient hometown of Kyoto. The nishin soba contains a small cut of brazed herring beautifully topped with a helping of finely chopped Japanese leek. With such a light soup broth, the rich flavors stewed into the fish gradually work their way out, little by little transforming the flavor of the broth.
This dish also fares well with a sprinkling of sansho pepper, giving you even more opportunity to transform the already heavenly flavors.
Ankake soba is a version of soba noodles which uses a broth made with potato starch. In Kyoto, this starch-filled bowl of noodles is also referred to as tanuki soba, but don’t worry, no actual tanuki were harmed in the making of these noodles. As a side note, in many places outside of Kyoto, tanuki soba refers to soba with little balls of fried tempura batter sprinkled on top. However, below are our recommendations for Kyoto’s version of ankake/tanuki soba.
■ Sanjo Owariya (veteran soba shop)
Sanjo Owariya’s tanuki soba is slightly sweet and slightly savory. The sweetness of the fried tofu blends with the saltiness of the broth, creating an irresistibly delicious flavor combination. However, nevertheless, the hand-cut noodles still manage to stand their own against these diverse flavors of the silky smooth ankake soup broth. The addition of a handful of grated ginger helps warm you from the inside out and makes this an amazing choice for cold winter days.
Established in the heart of downtown Kyoto in 1916, Daikokuya has been serving up noodles for over 100 years. In addition to the very Japanese exterior, the interior of this veteran noodle shop harkens back to days gone past.
Daikokuya’s tanuki soba contains a light dashi stock contrasted perfectly by the thickness of the ankake broth and accented by the addition of grated ginger.
With a full English menu, this restaurant is definitely a good choice for those new to soba noodles.
Nishin soba and tanuki soba are entirely different from what you’d generally imagine soba to be, so like I, you might be a little put off at first. However, if you take the leap and try them out, you’ll find that they’re actually quite good. My personal recommendation is the starch filled tanuki soba. I’ve tried my fair share of warm soba before, but I don’t think there’s anything that will warm you up quite like Kyoto’s tanuki soba. While the gloopy texture and warm broth are a big draw for many in the winter, the addition of ginger helps to make it just that much more comfortingly warm. Next time I find myself freezing to the bone on a chilly Kyoto winter day, I’ll definitely be having myself a bowl of tanuki soba. If you are in Kyoto or have plans of coming to Kyoto during winter, then I highly suggest baring the cold temperatures with a bowl of Kyoto soba.
Soba-yu refers to the water used to boil the soba. As the buckwheat flour of the noodles disintegrates into the boiling water, it begins to slowly thicken. This fills the boiling water with the same great nutrients you find in the noodles, which is why it' s said to be good for you. This is also why soba-yu has been drunk since the olden days.
Soba-yu is provided with dishes such as zaru-soba where the tsuyu sauce comes on the side and will be brought to the table once you have finished your noodles. Enjoy the soba-yu by pouring it into your remaining tsuyu and drinking the mixture.
In Kyoto, pouring soba-yu into the tsuyu will bring out more of the delicious flavors of the dashi stock used in the sauce, so you might be a little hesitant at first, but we highly recommend giving it a go!
Soba Biscuit / Soba-itaDid you think soba was just noodles and savory dishes? In Kyoto, sweets that use this flexible flour are far from rare. The sweet that especially stands out among them is the circle or flower-shaped soba biscuits known as soba-boro.
Even now, many Kyoto people are familiar with these unique biscuits. Also, as soba-boro were invented at a sweets shop somewhere in Kyoto, a dispute rages between several old soba shops in the ancient capital about who was the original.
> Kawamichiya (Soba-boro) – 河道屋 （蕎麦ボーロ）Kawamichiya’s soba-boro feature a cute flower-shaped design. The smell and crunch would make you think these are just like any other sweet cookie, but then you get a waft of the fragrant buckwheat aroma. At a reasonable price and light weight, these soba biscuits are the perfect souvenir.
Product name: Misoka-an Kawamichiya
Price: 90g bag – ¥300 (Excl. Tax)
150g bag – ¥500 (Excl. Tax)
> Honke Owariya (Soba-ita) – 尾張屋（蕎麦板）
The soba-ita is a bite-sized crunchy snack made by stretching the soba dough thin and baking it.
Honke Owariya sell soba-ita in a variety of flavors, including an original black sesame flavor.
The mild sweetness of these crispy treats works to bring out and further emphasize the aroma of the buckwheat. In addition to black sesame, they also sell matcha flavor, using real matcha from Kyoto’s Uji City, and peanut flavor.
Price: Box of 8 bags – ¥500 (Excl. Tax)
Box of 12 Bags – ¥700 (Excl. Tax)
Box of 18 bags – ¥1,00 (Excl. Tax)
*Each bag contains 3 soba-ita
|Sakurako[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]