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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Hot or cold, soba's swell in stir-fries, soup, salads

By Wanda Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Soba and somen are Japanese noodles often featured in refreshing cold entree salads, but also in soups and stir-fries.

Soba is a family of buckwheat-and-wheat-flour noodles that include versions made with yam flour (yamaimo soba, pictured) and even buckwheat and green tea (chasoba) or sesame seeds (gomasoba). Buckwheat came to Japan in the eighth century from Korea through China and began to be made into noodles in the 17th century.

Linda Bladholm's book, "The Asian Grocery Store Demystified," says the best-quality soba is called ni-hachi, made with two parts wheat to eight parts buckwheat. High-quality brands of noodles made in Japan, and traditionally sold in bundles secured with colorful paper bands, are available in most Hawai'i supermarkets. Japanese stores such as Daiei, Marukai, Shirokiya and others offer a wider variety, and may also have refrigerated fresh soba noodles.

Care should be taken not to overcook soba. Boil dried noodles 4 to 5 minutes, fresh ones 1 to 2 minutes. For cold uses, quickly drain noodles and run cold water over until they're cold; toss with a little oil or dressing and chill. To use in soup, add noodles to boiling broth just before serving, cooking to doneness.

In Hawai'i, we often serve cold soba salads already dressed with finely julienned vegetables or slivers of fish cake. Our dressings tend to be sweet and unctuous, made with shoyu, vegetable oil and/or sesame oil, sugar and dried dashi (Japanese fish stock base). But in Japan, the noodles often are piled delicately on a bamboo rack, with a less-sweet soy-mirin-dashi dipping sauce on the side.

• Next week: somen noodles.