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Monday, October 3, 2011

Zen Mastery of Pasta

Hiyashi Soba, Nagoya, Japan
Walking through a train station in Japan, I stumbled into this little stall with a line of people patiently waiting. So I joined in with my friend, not knowing what they sold. But we figured it must be good. As we got seated, I waved away the menu with a simple, "omakase" - chef's choice.

The stall specializes in soba - thin noodles made from buckwheat. One important point here is that buckwheat, despite the name, isn't even related to wheat, and thus, does not have gluten. Gluten is the protein in wheat that gives it the ability to be structurally sound - it gives bread the spring, the pasta the chew. Thus, crafting toothsome noodles out of buckwheat is a revered skill in Japanese culture.

Zaru soba, Nagoya, Japan
And this little stall did not disappoint. In the hot Nagoya summer, the buckwheat noodles were served cold, and the unsweetened green tea alongside was iced. The classic preparation is cold noodles simply served on a wicker plate, to be dipped in a cold mirin, wasabi and soy sauce, before being slurped. Or dressed, as in the hiyashi soba, with some grated ginger, shaved bonito flakes, and a perfectly poached egg (I was agog at the poaching technique - it was reminiscent of an egg prepared in a precisely controlled immersion circulator - except I didn't see one in this little stall).

The noodles were delicious, and shone in this simple preparation. A simple exclamation of "oishii" was enough to send our cook grinning.

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