The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Zaru Soba: Delightful Cold Summer Noodles

It's the third week of summer vacation and like many moms, I'm enjoying a more relaxed schedule. However, I find lunch a hassle. My children seem to think summer living should include room service with a menu plan. The minions have lived overseas and they know there is more to the palette than PB&J. I have enough trouble coming up with dinner ideas. To me, lunch is a powerbar and an apple. Maybe a cheese-stick and Triscuits if I'm lucky. I like PB&J. The short ones scoff and give me complicated explanations on healthy eating that has been hammered into their brains by the school system.   

Zaru Soba
We have created nutritional monsters. Mine made worse by their strange non-kid appetites.

So I make them Zaru Soba, cold soba buckwheat noodles, and everyone's happy. It's simple and fast (yay for me) and satisfies the little foodies. Win-win.

In Japan, this is a common summer lunch dish, although you could eat it for dinner, too. Hot soba noodles in a soup is also a common dish and can be accompanied with tempura, mountain vegetables, deep-fried tofu, and other ingredients. We'll save that for cooler weather. 

Cold noodles sounded a bit strange to me the first time I tried them (although we do eat noodle salads in the US), but I was immediately hooked. The soy sauce based dipping sauce is tangy and refreshing, the buckwheat taste of the noodles  earthy and smooth. Really delicious.

Noodle Soup Base
What makes the noodles so simple to make is the sauce. Noodle soup base sauce added to hot or cold water makes many Japanese soups and sauces. This stuff rocks. You can find this soup base at most Asian stores and some large supermarkets. Just mix the base with water. Of course, you can always make the sauce yourself with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi stock -- but why? If you're into cooking the hard way, here's the recipe from JustHungry recipes are yummy, but even she says the simplest way to make these noodles is to buy prepared base.

Soup Base proportions
Here's my snapshot from the back of the bottle showing the ease of making all the different sauces/soup bases. As you can see, for Zaru Soba it 4 parts cold water to 1 part soup base.

Soba bundle and Soba package
Zaru Soba for One 

Prepare Zaru Soba sauce the easy way above (1 cup cold water to 1 Tb of soup base) or the hard way (see

1 bundle of Soba (buckwheat) Noodles

Boiling Water (no salt, no oil, just water)

Condiments to sprinkle on the noodles 
(suggestions to follow)

Soba generally come in packs with the dried noodles tied in bundles. One bundle makes enough for one person, depending on the gusto of the eater.

Bring a pot of water to boiling, add noodles, and boil for 6-7 minutes. Test for doneness. They should be firm but not hard. Rinse hot noodles in cold water (don't plunge in cold water, rinse them and run your hands through them) and allow to drain. 

Actually, Zaru Soba is named for the zaru, a bamboo flat basket. It acts to drain the water from the noodles. We bought zaru dishes (at the Japanese version of the dollar store, no less), which are rimmed plates with a bamboo insert.

No 100 Yen Store close by? If you have a sushi roller, put it on top of a plate. That was my old standby. Otherwise... so your noodles sit in a small puddle. Life will go on.

Dipping the noodles
Put about a cup of cold soup/sauce in a small bowl. Dip the noodles as you eat them in the sauce. Add condiments as you like. My girls like nori (roasted seaweed) cut in little slivers (I do this with a scissors) and sprinkled on their noodles. Sliced green onion is delicious. Toasted sesame seeds, wasabi, and grated fresh ginger are also popular. Add these to the soba sauce.

Do you have a favorite summer dish from your host country? Please share!


  1. Yum! I like to make cold sesame noodles with slivers of green onions to go with cracked Dungeness crab. I have one of those soba noodle plates with the insert. Never knew what it was for!

    Have you ever tried the hot rice (like right out of the rice pot hot) mixed with a raw egg (the hot rice cooks the egg) and added oyster sauce? That was the standby meal my dad used to make for us when my mom wasn't around to make dinner. He'd slice up a lapchong (sausage) and top off the rice.

    1. That's so cool you have a zaru plate. You are set to go!
      We've eaten hot rice with egg, but not with the oyster sauce. That's one of my husband's favorite breakfast dishes (or frying the egg and eating in on top of rice). In Japan, raw egg and hot rice is popular for breakfast as well as mixing it with natto (fermented soy beans). I could not get into natto, but dh loves it. I love Japanese omelet (the folded egg you see with sushi) with rice for breakfast. The kids are into rice with nori.
      We'll have to give the oyster sauce a try and increase our palette! Thanks for the tip.

  2. Ohh this sounds very yummy...You are introducing me to so many new things. Thank you.

  3. I love 100% buckwheat noodles because I can eat them even though I'm gluten intolerant. I never thought of eating them cold, however. Guess what I'll be having for lunch today? :) Thanks for the tips, everyone.

    1. That's great! I didn't know it was gluten free. Good to know. Thanks Tam!

  4. I'm in awe that your girls eat this way. I thought my kids were experimental, but this is fantastic! :)

    1. We believe it's partly due to their Chinese heritage because they've always been that way. However, my dh will eat anything, too. He's my bizarre food boy. I'm a little more hesitant. Maybe next week we should do an exchange on weirdest foods everyone's eaten!