Food for thought: What are soba noodles?
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 10, 2013 00:10
In the past month, I have visited New York City several times. In that time, there has been one restaurant that I have made a point of eating at every time I visited. That restaurant is called Cocoron, and it serves Japanese soba noodles.
What are soba noodles? Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat, and the noodles themselves are thin, and not to be confused with the thick, wheat noodles, known as udon. It can be served in a variety of ways, but typically soba noodles are served either chilled in a cold broth, chilled with a hot dipping broth or in hot broth as a noodle soup.
Quite frankly, I prefer my soba to be served chilled with a hot dipping broth (that is, one picks up the noodles, dips them in the broth, then eats), as the noodles are fairly absorbent and will soak up the broth relatively quickly. Having them apart from the broth prevents them from becoming soggy and mushy, so that every bite has great buckwheat texture.
The broth soba is served with, or in, can be just about anything. At Cocoron, I have tried the pork kimchee broth, the mira mira broth, the Mexican broth and the Japanese curry broth, and I highly recommend all of them. The pork kimchee and mira mira broths are both spicy, but not overly so. I found the Mexican broth spicy only when jalapeno was added, and the Japanese curry was more flavorful than spicy. The restaurant itself is rather small, but if possible I recommend getting a seat at the bar so you can watch the chefs work their magic.
Common ingredients often found in soba dishes are equally tasty. Daikon radish is used in a couple of the dishes, as well as some appetizers. It has a cool, refreshing flavor and texture – I would compare it to a cucumber as the closest common Western food. Scallion is also used frequently, as well as all manner of meats. Really unless you’re allergic, I can’t recommend any one soba over another, they’re all delicious.
The final defining characteristic of soba is soba-yu, or the water that was used to boil the soba noodles. It is given to you after you have finished eating all your noodles, and you pour it into what remains of your broth so you can drink it as a soup. I’m not sure if this is strictly true, but the restaurant advertises that doing so gives you a lot of nutrients from the soba noodles that were absorbed into the water via the boiling process. Either way, it’s another tasty part of the process, and I am always happy to oblige.
Cocoron also offers a sizable selection of authentic Japanese appetizers and desserts, from edamame to mochi and tofu to daikon radish. My personal favorite is frozen fruit served with chilled coconut milk and tapioca. It’s fantastic, and I recommend that anyone who enjoys quality Japanese food make Cocoron a stop the next time they visit the Big Apple.