I visited Kawauchi Village with a group of English teachers from Tamura City (spoiler alert: not really a city), and some local interpreters, who took us to Iwana no Sato where we would make soba for our lunch!
The venue for this event is completely surrounded by luscious, green hills… It is a beautiful area.
The photo below shows the equipment we used to make soba: a large mixing bowl, rolling pins, a massive knife, and a wooden board.
Our teacher for the day was Watanabe san, a lovely, hilarious guy, who is really passionate about sharing his love for soba-making with others (but is a little reluctant to let beginners make too many technical mistakes!)
He spent a lot of the class running around at various stages of the making process, perfecting each group’s dough until it looked like it was supposed to.
Step 1: Make the dough
We mixed buckwheat flour and water in two stages, making sure to rub the flour and water into one another thoroughly to avoid any lumps.
Step 2: Knead the Dough
Once the dough was smooth and beginning to stick together, you knead it as if you were kneading bread. You fold over the top of the dough, push down onto it at a diagonal angle, until you have made it flat, then rotate it 90 degrees and repeat the process, until you have a cute little dough ball.
Step 3: Shape the Dough to Let Air Out
Shaping the dough like a pyramid encourages any air bubbles trapped inside to escape.
Step 5: Flatten Out the Dough
Use the palm of your left hand, and press down on the edge of the dough from a diagonal angle. Every time you make an impression on the dough, you rotate it, and press down on an unpressed part.
Due to avoiding pressing down directly in the middle, you should be left with a little raised area in the centre.
Step 6: Roll the Dough Out Flat
This is where things get complicated. Watanabe san explained the correct way of holding a rolling pin (bending your fingers like an animal’s paw, so that you don’t actually grab around the rolling pin, but allow it to move loosely under your hands).
Watanabe san was so quick at rolling out the dough, and could move his hands over the top of the rolling pin so quickly in circles. I really couldn’t get my brain around how to repeat this action in the same way as our lovely teacher.
After rolling it in all directions so that it stretches to around 40cm in diameter, Watanabe san instructed us to continue rolling – this time wrapping the soba sheet around the rolling pin, to roll it into a rectangular shape.
I wish I could give clearer instructions, but I was not very successful at this stage of the making process!
Step 7: Checking Thickness
Watanabe san used a tiny little machine which he passed over the surface of the sheet of dough to check the thickness. It works by pricking tiny holes in the soba and measuring how far the needle goes down. According to Watanabe san, the optimum thickness for soba dough is 1.5mm across the whole sheet, and there is little leeway for thickness too far under or over this for professional soba chefs.
Step 8: Fold & Chop
Once Watanabe san had approved each of our rectangular dough sheets one by one, we moved onto the final stage of preparation: folding & chopping!
We slipped the large knife under the sheet of dough and used it to flip the sheet over in half. Then, we used a big wooden chopping-board-like block to help us cut the noodles straight.
Watanabe san explained how you should slide the knife forward while cutting. Once you have made the cut, tilting the knife sideways will separate the noodles from the rest of the dough, so you can cut super quick (in theory!)!
Some of the group – not myself – were seriously fast at chopping noodles, and were able to get their noodles very fine – much to Watanabe san’s approval!
Step 9: Cooking
We cooked the noodles in boiling water for no more than 1 minute, then drained the noodles of water, and rinsed them through with cold water.
Step 10: Eating!
Finally, the long wait was over! We enjoyed the freshly cooked soba noodles with a light soup (made from water, soy sauce, dashi, mirin, with chopped onion and wasabi paste), and green tea! The braver people in the group even ordered a fire-roasted iwana fish!
I finished my noodles sooo quickly. They were really delicious. Of course one of the reasons for their great taste was the fact that I contributed to making them. They might have also tasted amazing because Watanabe san insisted on us all mixing in some of his handmade noodles with our portions!
Watanabe san is a really fun, engaging teacher. The rest of the participants also enjoyed chatting with him and soaking up some of his enthusiasm for making soba noodles! I highly recommend trying out this experience, or one similar, if you get a chance!
Until next time!
Iwana no Sato can be reached by catching a bus from Funehiki Train Station. The train station is on the Ban’etsu To Line, which runs through Koriyama Station. For information on how to get to Koriyama, see here. Please note that these bus lines are very rural and are extremely unlikely to have English language information / timetables!
If you’re interested in trying out the soba-making experience, have a look here and fill out a contact form! (Japanese only)
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