Soba noodles are one of the most popular Japanese foods, which means that throughout the country, flavors and methods of eating them vary greatly from region to region.
Soba noodles in Kyoto are defined by their regular use of locally grown ingredients and dipping sauce made with dashi stock. Many times when you eat soba in Kyoto, you will get to enjoy both the flavors of dashi that come from the light dipping sauce and the smooth texture of the noodles.
However, more than anything, the most beloved aspect of Kyoto soba is that its refreshing coolness 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 continues its suffocating grip over the city.
Below, we have compiled a list of the different varieties and ways of enjoying these cold noodles that the people of this ancient city love so much.
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
Soba-yuSoba-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!
Almost like a buckwheat mochi, sobagaki is the result of kneading buckwheat flour with hot water. Originally, soba was eaten like this, and it was only once people began playing around with different recipes that it came to be what we know today.
Sobagaki is neither boiled nor steamed so you can taste the natural flavors of buckwheat.
> Zingrock – じん六The sobagaki at the obsessive soba specialist Zingrock is on a level of its own. It’s sticky and mochi-like with a fragrant aroma of Zingrock’s specialty buckwheat. Add a pinch of salt and enjoy all the flavors and aromas the soba has to offer.
Dish name: Sobagaki｜そばがき
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 ]|