Experience: Soba Making (Nagano)

Soba (buckwheat noodles) is everywhere in Japan. If you’ve been here, you’ve probably had it at some point – in a sit-down restaurant, at a corner stand, or in a bento on the train. But making it? Not many people can claim to have done that.

I was curious about the process behind one of my favorite Japanese dishes so I tracked down a place in Togakushi (Nagano Prefecture). Nagano is one of the top regions in Japan for buckwheat cultivation and The Togakushi Soba Museum holds daily tutorials on how to prepare their signature dish.

Kneading the dough for soba
Kneading the dough for soba

Making good soba isn’t terribly difficult – you just need the best buckwheat flour money can buy, really clear and fresh mountain spring water, and really strong knees. The first two ingredients are self-explanatory and easily found in the Togakushi region. The latter comes into play when you’re “forced” to knead the dough 150 times in a large bowl held tightly between your thighs as you’re kneeling on the floor. Trooper that I am, I lasted about 47 squeezes of dough before passing off to my non-patella-challenged husband.

Next comes the rolling, where the dough is shaped like a mushroom or a frisbee (complete with a raised bump in the middle) and the sides are flattened with a large rolling pin. There’s a specific angle you hold your hands to roll the dough that’s specific to the Togakushi region. It took us a few tries but we eventually mastered a slow-motion version. Our teacher, of course, put us to shame. May we look like her after ten more years of practice!

The completed meal
The completed meal

Then it’s on to the folding (just like a crepe – now that I can do!) and the cutting begins. The best soba noodles are about two millimeters thick and once you get the hang of the technique, that’s not a difficult task to master. Of course, imperfections are more than permitted – it’s how you know you’re eating hand-cut soba as opposed to machine-processed noodles.

But they save the best part for last … the eating of course! We had made enough for four people, but that didn’t stop us from tucking in and attempting to finish it all. Whether served (cold) plain, with salt, or dipped into the special Togakushi sauce, there’s no doubt that soba is one of the tasties dishes around.

6 thoughts on “Experience: Soba Making (Nagano)

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  1. I love cold soba with dipping sauce. That kneading looks hardcore! Have you tried to make this at home since the class yet? or is it not a make a home type thing?

    1. It’s one of my favorite dishes too, explodyfull! No, sadly, I haven’t attempted this is my own kitchen yet (though they did provide me the recipe). But then again, my kitchen here is pretty tiny so I don’t really have room for all the effort it requires!

  2. Let’s see if you cheated while kneeling/kneeding… Were your feet BENEATH your gluteus maximus? LOL My blood stops flowing within ten seconds. 😉

    When you make a ton of soba, you can purchase a taut wire framework device (like a large autoharp with very fine wires). You place the kneaded dough in the appropriate thickness on top of the taut wires then roll the rolling pin over it. Voila.

    1. Mustang.Koji, I’ve got you beat by about two minutes but after that, my legs are numb! That soba contraption sounds pretty cool. If I ever get REALLY into making Japanese cuisine at home, I might have to invest!

  3. I really would like to experience soba noodles making. I will be visiting Nagano in Dec this year around 7 and 8th. Will the Museum be open for soba making then? And what is the best way to get there? I don’t drive. Really need advise in this. Tks.

    1. You can access the museum easily with public transportation, it just takes a little bit of time. To get to Nagano in the first place, take a shinkansen from Tokyo station. When you arrive in Nagano, exit the station via the Zenkoji Temple side. The Nagano bus terminal (and all bus stops) are off to the left, across the street. Take any bus in the direction of Togakushi (usually bus 70 or 71). You can buy tickets either inside the bus station or take a ticket when you board the bus and pay when you get off. There is a bus stop sepcifically for the museum (Nagano Soba Hakubutsukan). As to whether it will be open, it seems that according to their website they closed from December 3rd – April 4th last year. But you can always call or have someone call for you when you get to Japan. Their number is 026-254-3773. Good luck!

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