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No.189 (6/10/11)

Nihachi Kai: Japanese Soba Uchi Association in Misawa

By Keiko H. Johnson
Staff Writer


One of the Japanese foods I craved often and was extremely difficult to find while I was living overseas was a freshly made Japanese soba noodle. The dried soba noodles were accessible at the stores in oversea countries; however, they were not nearly as tasty as those that were freshly made. When I returned to Japan, I was looking forward to crafting the Soba noodles. And was given the opportunity when I met an experienced soba crafter by chance. The Soba Uchi group, to which my mentor belongs to, meets at the civic center once a month. The Nihachi kai Soba crafting group consisted of members now reaching retirement age. They were looking to fuel the newfound lifetime leisure and turned to Soba Uchi. The fee of 1000 yen per participant gives you a fine experience of the art of Japanese cuisine.


On Saturday at 9a.m. the members of Nihachi-Kai Soba Uchi group begins their Soba crafting. My first coach was an experienced Soba crafter who has been studying Soba Uchi for over four years. A few minutes after I spent watching him kneading the dough, a lady(my second coach) called for me to begin the lesson by holding up two measuring cups. One cup was a mixture of eighty percent soba flour and twenty percent wheat flour, she explained. Second was half a cup of water to combine with the flour. The adequate amount of water is the heart to Soba making, she added. Too much water will make the noodle too soft and the distinct texture of a true Soba noodle will be lost when it is cooked.


The second step, with the coaches' assistance, was the kneading process. After emptying the soba and wheat flour mixture into a round wooden bowl, I then mixed half a cup of water into it. The first and worst mistake I made was the amount of water added. The amount of water is crucial for Soba crafting and I poured too much water at the beginning. Mixing the dough requires a strong and good sense of immovable focus on your fingertips, in which you gain through years of experience for distinguishing the accurate consistency of the dough. Another important bit of information was the timing. The longer you to take to knead the dough, the harder the dough becomes as the water evaporates. The dried up dough begins to crack and fall apart.

Speaking of a history of Soba, it began in the 1600s, yet it took a few years for a crafter to form soba into noodle shape. It was difficult to handle the grainy soba flour. The simple solution was adding wheat flour and it finally made it possible to create a new style of healthy noodle. It is now clear to me Soba flour is much more rebellious than regular flour when it comes to noodle making. After the dough became flexible, it was time to spread the dough out into a square form that is a quarter inch thick. First by hand, then next using a kneading pin, I began rolling out the dough. Once the dough was spread, it was folded and cut into 1mm thick noodles with a Soba knife, which looks similar to a heavy-duty butcher knife.

Since the benefits of consuming buckwheat noodles are far greater than other types of noodles, it is widely recognized and gaining public’s attention internationally. In the U.S., Soba refers to as an Asian noodle in general, however, it originates from a Japanese word meaning buckwheat plant. Buckwheat is a kind of grain used to make soba noodle. The U.S agricultural department regards buckwheat as the best source of protein among plants, since it is composed of 12 percent protein and only 2 percent fat. When you consume one hundred grams of buckwheat, it provides 380 calories, 3.5 g of fat, 9 g of protein, 11 mg of calcium, 1.14 mg of iron and 299 mg of potassium, according to NutritionAnalyser.com. The rising popularity of soba noodles in Japan is due to a combination of its nutritional value, taste, availability and friendly cost. Although Soba is recognized as a healthy food, it is always important to take precautions when introducing a new item into your diet, especially if you have a history of food allergies. The buckwheat is widely known as highly allergenic to those who are sensitive to certain types of food. If you have any questions about allergic complications, consult your physician before consuming any buckwheat product. If any allergic reactions take place after you consume buckwheat, please talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your symptoms.

At the end of the cooking session with the Nihachi-kai group, I sat down with crafters and enjoyed tasting the texture of Soba each crafter had made that day. Every one of those precisely crafted Soba noodles tasted just perfect on my tongue. Once rigidly focused crafters’ faces on Soba crafting were now softened and growing with heavenly satisfaction. My experience with the group became one of my most precious experiences of Japan. Given this opportunity, I would like to send all my gratitude to the craters for their support and patience given to me throughout the whole Soba crafting process.

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