Light and refreshing, Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles) will be your summer go-to staple. 10-minute is all you need to whip up this delicious noodle dish.
Is there any specific hot-weather food that you enjoy in your culture? In Japan, during the unbearable hot and humid summer, the classic cold Japanese noodle, Zaru Soba (ざるそば) is the perfect dish to cool down!
What is Zaru Soba?
Zaru Soba is a chilled noodle dish made from buckwheat flour and served with soy sauce-based dipping sauce called Tsuyu (つゆ).
The word zaru means “a strainer” in Japanese and the name of the dish was derived from the way the noodles are served over a bamboo strainer during the Edo Period.
Types of Soba (Buckwheat Noodles)
There are different varieties of soba noodles in Japan, but the primary differences are texture and flavors.
The Ratio of Buckwheat Flour
- Ju-wari Soba (十割そば) is made of 100% buckwheat flour. It has a dry and rough texture so the noodles are easily broken. Ju-wari soba has a strong buckwheat aroma and flavor, and it can be hard to make because of the dry and crumbly texture.
- Hachi-wari Soba (八割そば) is made from 80% buckwheat flour and 20% wheat flour. Hachi-wari means 80% in Japanese. The noodle is much smoother and it has an al dente texture. Unlike Ju-wari Soba, it’s easy to swallow and chew. However, the buckwheat aroma is less pronounced than Ju-wari.
It’s hard to say which soba is tastier and more delicious; it really depends on personal preference!
Different Flavors for Buckwheat Noodles
You might have seen packages of green or pink soba noodles in Japanese grocery stores.
- Green Tea Soba (Cha Soba, 茶そば) – The noodles are flavored with a small amount of green tea powder to give a subtle green tea taste and green color.
- Ume Plum Soba (Ume Soba, 梅そば) – The noodles are flavored with Japanese ume plum and have a slight pink color.
How To Eat Soba Noodles
Zaru soba is unquestionably a simple dish, but we do have a protocol on how to eat the noodles.
First, combine 1 part of cooled dipping sauce and 3 parts of iced water in a serving pitcher.
At the table, place the pitcher of dipping sauce and small dishes that contains chopped green onions and grated wasabi. Each person has a plate of soba noodles and a small bowl or cup for dipping sauce.
Serve yourself the dipping sauce in the small bowl/cup and add some condiments of your choice such as green onion and wasabi. Then pick up some soba noodles, dip in the dipping sauce briefly, and slurp the noodles. The dipping sauce is salty, so don’t soak the noodles in the sauce for a long time.
When you’re done with the noodles, you can pour the reserved sobayu (そば湯) – soba cooking water – to the rest of your dipping sauce in the bowl/cup and enjoy it as a soup broth.
Serve Zaru Soba with Tempura
At soba or udon noodle shops, it’s very common to serve the noodles with tempura. When we serve Zaru Soba with Tempura, we call the dish Tenzaru (天ざる).
But if you’re up for a full meal, fry up some tempura to accompany your Zaru Soba!
Zaru Soba (Cold Soba Noodles)
- Gather all the ingredients.
To Make Dipping Sauce (makes 1 cup concentrated sauce):
- In a medium saucepan, add ¼ cup sake and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the alcohol evaporates for a few seconds.
- Add ½ cup soy sauce and ½ cup mirin (I add + 1 Tbsp mirin for my family's preference).
- Add 1 x 1 inch (2.5 x 2.5 cm) kombu and 1 cup dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi).
- Bring it to a boil and cook on low heat for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool completely. Strain the sauce and set aside. You can keep the sauce in an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator for up to a month.
To Boil Soba Noodles:
- Boil a lot of water in a large pot. Unlike pasta, you do not add salt to the water. Add dried soba noodles in the boiling water in a circulate motion, separating the noodles from each other. Cook soba noodles according to the package instructions (each brand is slightly different). Stir the noodles once in a while so they don’t stick to each other. Check the tenderness and do not overcook. Before you drain, reserve 1 to 1 ½ cup of soba cooking water "Sobayu" (Read what you can use this in the blog post).
- Drain the soba noodles into the sieve and rinse the noodles to get rid of starch under running cold water. This is a very important step.
- Shake off the sieve to drain completely and transfer the noodles to the iced water in a large bowl. Set aside until the noodles are cool.
- To serve the noodles, place a bamboo sieve or mat over a plate (to catch water from noodles). Put soba noodles and garnish shredded nori sheet on top.
- You will need 90 ml (6 Tbsp) of dipping sauce per cup/person, which means 360 ml (1 ½ cup) for 4 servings. Since the sauce to water ratio is roughly 1:3, combine 1 part (90 ml) of dipping sauce and 3 parts (270 ml) of iced water in a measuring cup and check the taste. If it's salty, add more water. If it's diluted, add more sauce.
- Put chopped green onions and wasabi on a small plate and serve with the soba noodles.
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published in August 2011. It’s been updated with new images and the video in July 2016. The post has been updated and republished in July 2020.