How to Make Soba Noodles

Last month I took an amazing class with author and chef Sonoko Sakai on how to make soba noodles by hand. She’s a great teacher and I managed to make a halfway decent couple of servings of noodles during the class.

Like many Japanese arts, soba making has a series of very precise steps. The recipe itself is simple (just buckwheat flour and water), though you do have to pay close attention to the temperature and humidity in the room. While it takes a soba master years to master the craft, you can make decent soba at home. My first attempt a week after the class wasn”t perfect, but I have a feeling I’ll get better with a little more practice. And I plan on making a lot of soba this summer.

Made of buckwheat, soba is gluten free, though beginners start with some all purpose flour added in to make it easier to roll out. Sakai has a couple of soba recipes on her website. There’s a basic one here that includes a nice series of photos showing the steps you go through to roll it out and cut it. She also has a beautiful soba recipe using matcha here.

Buckwheat flour for making soba is available in any Japanese market. The authentic Japanese flour we used in class is priced like cocaine and is not sold in the US. The buckwheat flour sold in Japanese markets in the states is grown in the US and will work just fine.

In Japan soba is made with a couple of exotic tools. There’s a long and thin rolling pin with no handles. They have a martial arts vibe:

Image from Worldwide-soba–they sell a soba making kit.

I was able to improvise one of these at home with a dowel from Home Depot.

There’s also a very expensive soba knife used to slice the folded dough:

And a soba cutting guide:

I substituted a small cutting board in my own kitchen. And my commitment to soba is not at the $1,000 level yet so there’s no fancy soba knife in our kitchen. At home I was able to make do with a regular kitchen knife, my improvised rolling pin and my homebrew soba cutting board.

While this is one of those activities best learned in person, yes, there is a series of youtube videos you could use to figure out how to make soba at home:

And, I do urge you to give it a try. The noodles we made in class were may times better than store bought soba. And, once you get the basic moves down, soba is quick to make, healthy and tasty.

If you live here in Los Angeles you can sign up for the Los Angeles Bread Makers Meetup group–we’re going to ask Sonoko to repeat the soba class and do an udon class as well. You can also contact her through her website http://commongrains.com/ to find out if she’s doing a workshop near you.

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13 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I love soba, but haven’t been able to find any in our area that’s gluten free. Your post has convinced me to go to the trouble of learning how to make it.

  2. I find it fascinating how techniques stay the same across cultures. The method of making a well in the middle of the flour, into which the water is poured, is the same one I learned from my mother. It’s the technique she learned from both her grandmothers- one from Italy, the other from Slovakia.

  3. Sue–the reason store bought soba is sometimes not gluten free is that it often does not contain buckwheat flour or has a mix of buckwheat and wheat. When you make it yourself, of course, you can make sure that it’s buckwheat.

  4. Hmm, this would be a very interesting weekend dinner project. We usually keep dried soba around for months on end–but I bet we’d eat it more often if it tasted homemade! Er, because it would actually be homemade…

  5. WHY ARE THEY MIXING WHEAT FLOUR WITH THE BUCKWHEAT FLOUR CAN YOU USE THE SAME RECIPE FOR ALL BUCKWHEAT FLOUR, OR WILL YOU NEED TO MAKE ADJUSTMENTS, THANK YOU JOYCE

    • Exactly – not a gluten free recipe with the addition of wheat flour. I am guessing the wheat flour will help strengthen or elasticize the noodle overall that’s why it’s used in the majority of noodles sold in markets.

    • Wheat flour is used in soba commercially because it is a lot cheaper than buckwheat flower. For home noodle makers, its often added to make it a little easier to work with. — Erik

    • Yes, indeed, the wheat flour makes the noodles much easier to handle. But classically soba is all buckwheat. Unfortunately we don’t have that recipe, but noodles are pretty straightforward. Try it as written, substituting buckwheat flour for the wheat. You’ll know quickly if you have enough water or too much, and can adjust accordingly.

      Sorry, too, that we did not see your comment until now.

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  7. An interesting aside is that buckwheat was the grain that was eaten by the poor long ago because wheat and wheat flour as well as white rice was much more expensive. Now it seems that buckwheat is more expensive. Curious. I may have read that in a novel titled “Soil” written before the turn of the 19th century.

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