Thursday, February 14, 2013

Random Cravings: For the Love of Soba

I love food and have quite a lot of favorites, but soba is one of the few things in the world that give me an instant jolt of happiness. Yes. Seriously. It's an incredibly simple Japanese dish, but it is also one of the tastiest, yummiest, most scrumptious, delectable things I have ever had the pleasure of eating.

Soba is what the Japanese call buckwheat, and also refers to the thin, grayish noodles that, in my opinion, are one of the best things to come out of Japan. It is usually served with soba tsuyu - a sauce made with  shoyu-based (soy) dashi broth with mirin (rice wine) - along with a variety of condiments.

I first tried soba on a trip to Tokyo, Japan back in 2007. Here's a Tumblr entry about it:

It was actually aboard Japan Airlines on my way to Tokyo in 2007. My flight tray came with a teeny bowl of soba noodles and a cute bottle of soba sauce. The rest of the meal consisted of shrimp salad, a bread roll, butter, Kikkoman sauce, beef with veggies, and an ube dessert. The soba noodles were truly the highlight of that meal. I couldn’t believe noodles could be so good plain! It wasn’t even proper soba at that since it was instant airplane soba. From that day on, soba became one of my favorite foods.
Since then, I've been obsessed. Unfortunately, soba is hard to find in my home country, the Philippines. There are so many Japanese restaurants here in Manila, but only a select few offer it on the menu. Sure, it's probably available at the more high end Japanese places, but I don't want to have to do fine dining every time I want soba. What I'm saying is, it's here, but it's not readily accessible. This is why it's the first thing I check whenever I try a new Japanese restaurant. I'm always on the hunt for it, and I'm totally thrilled whenever I find a place that has it.

My favorite for a long time was Teriyaki Boy's cha soba, made with regular soba noodles, just flavored with green tea powder. It was served with the usual soba tsuyu, plus wasabi (Japanese horseradish paste) and grated yamaimo (a sort of Japanese yam). Did I mention that soba can be served hot or cold, and usually cold? I personally prefer it cold. Teriyaki Boy's version was served with ice. I loved it and always ordered it with seared maguro (tuna).

Taken at Teriyaki Boy in Festival Mall, back in January 2012. Had lunch with the boy there before going on a trip to Tagaytay with friends. 

Unfortunately, it's gone from Teriyaki Boy's menu, which is such a shame. I can understand though - soba isn't really popular fare here. When I ordered it during lunch with guy office friends, they spent the meal kidding me about it. "What is that?" "Why are the noodles green?" "Why does it have ice?" "Why do you like your food cold?" "Wala ba yang sahog?" So funny.

Taken at Teriyaki Boy Paseo Center, November 2011, during lunch with RA, Pol, Drew, and Ken. 

I found a less pricey yet equally yummy version at this little, nondescript Japanese restaurant named Komoro Soba in Megamall. My fiance Aleq and I have been going there for years but I never thought to check. (Duh, its name is Komoro SOBA, dummy!) Anyway, I was so thrilled when I found that they had soba. I order the cold ebi soba - regular brown-gray soba noodles with a piece of shrimp tempura. The condiments for the soba tsuyu there were really simple - just wasabi and and scallions - but it's really good. 

Taken at Komoro Soba Megamall, December 2011, during a random dinner there with Aleq.

This entry isn't a walk down soba memory lane for me though. What actually got me writing about soba at this time of the night is the best soba I have tried so far in Manila. Earlier this evening, the boy and I found ourselves lost in Shangrila Mall. It was Ash Wednesday, and we didn't know where to eat because we were abstaining from meat today. I was dying of hunger, so he suggested just eating at Sumo Sam since we were standing right in front of it and "they have tempura or something." So we went inside, and while he knew what to order immediately (tendon, the shrimp and veggie tempura bowl, is one his favorites), I felt lost again. I forgot that the only thing I ever order at Sumo Sam was the bacon-wrapped dory. It was fish alright, but it was also meat! I then proceeded to order a smoked salmon and tuna roll, inwardly groaning that I gave in to the temptation of rice, but Aleq saw this little sign on the table just in the nick of time, proclaiming that they now served soba! I took back my previous order with a quickness and asked for zaru cha soba. Zaru refers to the bamboo basket used to drain the soba


It was fantastic, to say the least. The cold, green soba noodles came with the tastiest nori (seaweed) ever, the tsuyu had just the right saltiness to it, and the condiments were amazing - spring onions, raw quail egg, and katsuobushi (bonito flakes - fermented, dried skipjack tuna)! It was a quite heaping amount of noodles too, but to be honest, it was so tasty I felt like I could finish another serving. Gah. My mouth is watering so much right now just writing about it. It was so good! 

Soba is the only noodle that can stand on its own. It tastes so perfect that aside from the sauce, there's no need for anything to be added to it. If you haven't tried soba, please do! The taste for almost all Japanese food is acquired, more often than not, but you have to be adventurous and try this at least once. 

You eat soba by taking some noodles with your chopsticks and giving them a quick dip in your sauce bowl. It's normal for the Japanese to slurp up the goodness, but since we're not in Japan, I'm leaving it up to you to decide if you want to slurp your noodles noisily inside the Japanese restaurants here. Check out this great demo on YouTube.

Want to know more about soba? Anthony Bourdain is the man. This Tumblr post alone already shows how much he loves it. Check out this old No Reservations episode that showed him having soba with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in Tokyo, and a more recent one where he had soba with snowboarders in Hokkaido. 

Ok. You know I'm obsessed when I ramble on and on about something. And so my long and winded soba tale ends. I'm already thinking about going to Komoro Soba tomorrow after gym for a quick happy meal.

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