Soba & Udon cont.
In Japan, no matter how fancy the soba restaurant, the noise of Japanese diners slurping their noodles is inescapable because it is considered childish and impolite to cool them by blowing on them. The fancier spots have rustic interiors emphasizing the rough textures of braided straw or bamboo lattice work. In general the more primitive and handcrafted the noodle and decor, the more attentive the service. Wanko soba, a dish for which Iwate prefecture is famous, is served by a persistent waitress who sits behind the diner, poised to toss a small lacquer bowlful of noodles into your empty cup of broth. If you are slow to cap your broth, or leave your cup open even a crack, in slosh the soba from over your shoulder and you have to finish off another mouthful, ad infinitum.
The fact that udon and soba are more delicious when kneaded by hand (known as te-uchi) rather than by machine has given rise to specialty restaurants who employ an expert to handcraft noodles. Besides presenting you with a chance to see how noodles are madewhich is fascinating in and of itselfyou are guaranteed noodles that are really fresh, and a taste experience unavailable to the spaghetti eater. Many people find the uneven texture of te-uchi noodles particularly sensational.
Soba and udon do not resemble pasta. Although there are many theories about how to eat spaghetti properly, there is no question in the minds of the Japanese as to how to enjoy soba. One must make a great sucking noise, cooling the noodles with the intake of breath, while at the same time swallowing them. Be careful not to choke the first time!
The slithery hard texture of Japanese noodles distinguishes them from absorbent, and pasty pasta. Italians say that pasta must combine with their tomato sauce, in a chemistry appreciated under the tongue, not in the throat. Yet the true soba connoisseur eats his cold soba plain, after barely flicking the strands into the cup of broth. However, it is acknowledged that the broth is exceedingly delicious, so one Japanese proverb describes the emptiness of the perfectionist as "never being allowed to get enough of the broth." Beware though, since it is considered totally uncivilized to sip or drink the broth plain. Instead, water it down with the hot water used to cook the noodles, which will be served in a large red pitcher.
Soba (buckwheat noodles) are served in two styles: as hot kake-soba in a bowl of broth and condiments, or as cold inori-soba literally "piled" up on a hamboo lattice in a square frame (zaru). Mori-soba is dunked in a delicious cold broth, tsukejiru, which is served separately. When cold, you should sprinkle the soba with seaweed shreds. The tsukeijru comes with a small dish of grated wasabi (horseradish) and finely chopped green onion to be added as a garnish. Soba also comes in two colors: brownish gray and green. The green color is due to the addition of powdered green tea, hence the name cha-soba.
Udon refers to the thick wheat noodles which are generally served hot in broth, as kake-udon. The selection of what you can order to go in the broth (the kake part) is similar for both udon and soba.
Some cut-rate soba shops around Japan's train stations don't even have seatscustomers merely stand at the counter as they eat. A curtain hanging at the entrance to the soba stall screens all but their legs and the gusto of their slurps. In the posher spots, however, noodle shops assume the appearance of a Zen retreat in the mountains and serve lumpy hand-beaten (te-uchi) buckwheat strands in rough-hewn bamboo frames, or zaru.