Buckwheat noodles are a pasta made from a mixture of buckwheat flour and whole wheat flour. The noodles are hand cut and primarily sold dry or fresh. They can be served hot or cold, and are extremely popular in Japan, as well as other parts of Asia and Italy.
Buckwheat, a seed from a fruit similar to rhubarb, is not technically considered a grain outside of the culinary world, although it is used as such. In order to make buckwheat noodles, the grain is ground and mixed with wheat flour. The ratio between the two ingredients varies, as noodles that are meant to be served hot tend to have more wheat flour since straight buckwheat noodles do not handle long cooking times. When the noodles are served cold, they tend to have more buckwheat.
Once the dough for the noodles is mixed, it is rolled out and folded into itself. High quality noodles are hand cut. Restaurants that specialize in buckwheat noodles tend to make the noodles on site and cook them immediately. The noodles can also packaged fresh, or dried and then packaged, before they are sold in stores.
Cold noodles tend to be the most popular form of this dish, especially in Japan where they are typically prepared during the summer. Serving buckwheat noodles cold tends to allow for more of the unique flavor of the seed to come through. Fresh noodles are cooked very briefly, then drained and cooled. The noodles are dressed with a simple sauce, and can be topped with any number of ingredients.
When buckwheat noodles are served hot, they are usually part of a thick soup. While the noodles are the star of the dish, a variety of meats and vegetables can also be included. In Japan, buckwheat noodle soup, typically referred to as soba, is a traditional dish served on New Year’s Eve, and this soup is also popular throughout the winter months.
While these specialty noodles are common all over Asia, Japan is famous for them. Soba is sold dry in convenience and grocery stores, and soba soups are sold dried with a seasoning packet and prepared similar to convenience-store ramen. After each harvest of buckwheat, the noodles are served at festivals by vendors. Several restaurants throughout the country are dedicated solely to the buckwheat noodle, and it is a popular staple in many households often used in stir fries.
In Japan, hot buckwheat noodles are served in a soup with a rich dashi, a stock made from kelp and dry tuna flakes. Cold noodles are served with a soba tsuyu sauce, which includes thickened dashi, soy sauce, and rice wine. Buckwheat noodles are also used in several noodle dishes in Korea and Taiwan, and tend to be popular in China, especially with street vendors. Outside of Asia, the noodles are also used in Italy for pizzoccheri, a flat ribbon-shaped pasta.