The Art of Soba

There’s an age-old debate about the authenticity of Asian cuisine in America. It seems that unless you were born into an Asian family, where you were being served traditional Asian dishes, that it’s actually quite difficult to even tell whether the food you are eating is “authentically” Asian, however; factors like food preparation and the style in which food is shared may come into play. One thing many people in the U.S are looking for, is an authentic Soba restaurant. Soba is a buckwheat noodle generally enjoyed by the Japanese and the Chinese and in most restaurants in Japan, it is made in front of you.

It was first brought to Japan from China during the Jommon period. Soba, Sakai says, “came to Japan as a porridge, and the Buddhist monks who studied in China had it during their long meditative journeys. And they brought it back to Japan, and the people in Japan turned it into noodles.”

One of the key factors that points to authenticity with this dish, and other Asian dishes is not just how it’s prepared but the simple ingredients that go into crafting traditional Soba. For an example it gets it’s greyish color from grinding the skin of the buckwheat into the flour and Soba noodles made with just normal wheat flour is considered unauthentic to many Asians who enjoy the dish traditionally. Soba is also symbolic for longevity and well being, and it is customary in Japan to eat it on New Years day, this particular kind of Soba is called Toshi-Koshi Soba.

“But finding genuine versions in the U.S. is difficult. The packaged noodles available in grocery stores are made mostly of wheat flour. And only a handful of restaurants stateside serve it up in the traditional way, meaning the chefs make the dough and cut and boil the noodles in front of customers. Shioya hopes to re-create that taste in her own kitchen.”

Serving delicious Soba was a great treat for the end of the month, or as consolation when debt collectors went around town to collect money. Soba and Udon were frequently used to provide sustenance to people, when ruling political parties neglected their citizens all over Asia.  It would make sense that those who understand the history of this great meal, really want to see more traditional Soba restaurants in the U.S.

Many people consider preparing and serving Soba an art form. Soba gives us some insight to what makes Asian cuisine authentic, in the sense that there are multiple factors that need to be considered in crafting a traditional dining experience. The color, ingredients, manner in which it is prepared and served all are incorporated in sharing an authentic Soba experience. Understanding the multidimensionality of Asian cuisine helps us understand the traditions of Asian culture… and how food can be much more than just food. In Baltimore, Suzie’s Soba holds true to the cultural values of preparing Soba in the traditional way, using the traditional ingredients. In doing so they are really able to own the title of having “Authentic Asian cuisine.”

In the end having authentic asian cuisine goes much deeper than simply taste, learning about the different aspects that go into preparing and serving authentic Asian food gives us more insight to the culture and customs of Asian people and the best thing is that now, anyone can take part!


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