Canadian organic buckwheat soba, from SobaKoh
There’s no doubt the Age of Ramen is upon us. You can get ramen noodles on nearly any block in some neighborhoods, including at least a dozen places in the East Village alone, where you can pay up to $20 for a bowl with a choice of myriad toppings and configurations. The other Japanese noodles–soba and udon–have long been laying low, hiding out as it were. But this might be about to change.
The wildfire popularity of Cocoron–a dyed-in-the-wool authentic Japanese soba spot paradoxically located on a hardscrabble stretch of Delancey–has proven that soba might be making a comeback among diners quite literally fed up with ramen. Of course, the disappearance of Honmura An, a long-running Soho soba restaurant so obsessive that the noodles were made in a little shack a few feet from your table, not long ago left the soba throne empty.
While ramen is made with wheat flour, soba is made with buckwheat, native to the northern stretches of Japan. The grain has more in common with American wild rice than with wheat, and it takes great skill to make soba. The dough is rolled out using a series of ever-smaller dowels, which were proudly displayed at Honmura An. The test of a great soba noodle is at what point it breaks as the uncooked noodle is bent. Soba noodles are slightly darker than ramen and have a “tooth,” or texture.
Soba is often eaten cold with a soy-based dipping sauce. The noodles feel cool on the tongue, and wasabi mixed into the sauce (or dabbed on the noodle, which is the more authentic way) adds tang. After you’ve consumed the cold noodles, a pot of hot water turns the dipping sauce into a warm soup. Eating soba is a ritual, while eating ramen is just sucking down starch.
At comparative sleeper SobaKoh, the homemade soba noodles are superb, but there’s one that beats all the others: inaka soba, which costs $3 extra. It’s made with three kinds of organic buckwheat flown in from Canada and made into noodles on the spot. This soba is darker since the whole grains are used and has a toasty flavor; the texture is less smooth than regular soba, which is made with buckwheat flour. Served cold and dipped and slurped in a broth that contains a little yuzu, the inaka soba is irresistible.
The regular soba at SobaKoh
309 East 5th Street
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 10, 2012