Thousands of Miles from Home


And Then We Eat It

This weekend I received a summons to an “invitation only” Soba-making party held in Tamano. I was surprised by the offer but was thrilled with the opportunity to make some authentic Japanese noodles. I arrived around noon to find 10 people and the master soba chef talking in the main room of a small 2nd floor coffee house. Recently, I was featured in the Tamano City magazine as one of the “international visitors,” so some people commented that they had read the article when I introduced myself.

At first I was a little worried about barging in on the soba making process, but everyone at the party was quite talkative and friendly. The chef, and older gentleman who had been making and sampling soba for many years, gave a small introduction speech then got down to business. He combined a special wheat-flour with eggs and water, then kneaded the crumbly goat-cheese like mixture until a large round ball of dough formed. He then used a massive cutting board and wooden rolling pin to systematically flatten the dough to the thickness of a few millimeters. The dough was then folded into a small rectangle about the size of a college textbook.

Perhaps the most interesting step in the soba making process is the cutting of the noodles. This (along with slight ingredient variation) is what differentiates soba from other Japanese noodles (mainly ramen and udon). The soba chef pulled out a very large, very flat knife, and with the edge of a smaller cutting board as a guide began to slice the soba into thin lengths. When he was about finished, he asked me to give the slicing a try and I feebly wielded the large knife, cutting some decent looking lengths of dough.

As for the preparation/boiling of the noodles themselves, the chef recommended no more than 30 seconds of boiling time per portion of soba. He then insisted that the soba must be eaten within three minutes of boiling, else the soba lose its flavor.

Everyone in the coffee shop took a seat while the chef and his assistant (I believe it was his wife and daughter) boiled the soba and served the guests at the party. We first ate the noodles dipped in cold water, to get a better taste of the soba flavor, before moving on to soba dipped in soy sauce with wasabi on the side. After about 10 platefuls of soba had been passed around the table we finished the meal with some smoked fish and a thimbleful of sake (or two).

I didn’t think making soba could be such a social event, but I got to know a good deal about the other guests at the party. Following the soba making festivities, I procured the soba chef’s business card and returned home to clean up the house. Why the cleaning job? For one reason, my room was a disaster zone after a solid month of traveling, parties, and sleeping. But also because that evening Micah was coming all the way from Kanonji to visit Tamano for a few days. It was difficult to convince his host Rotary counselor to let him come, but after my host mother talked with him on the phone he willingly agreed to let Micah “out of the cage that is Shikoku” (my Rotary counselor, Aketa-san, had no problem with letting me travel to Kanonji, but perhaps because Kanonji is in the middle of nowhere, and Aketa-san is a cool guy).

Stay tuned for reggae, BBQs, and a little bit of bubble blowing.


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