The simple brown Japanese noodle known as soba has a long and lumpy history as well as the local Shinshu Soba. It is said that soba was introduced to Japan from China during the latter part of the Jomon Period, which ended around 300BC. There are written records of soba being grown in Japan during an 8th Century famine. A century later En-no-Gyoja, the founder of the ascetic mountain worship practice of Shugendo, introduced soba to the people inhabiting the places he visited, including the famed Togakushi mountains in northern Nagano.
Yet it wasn’t until the Edo Era (1603-1868) that soba began to be served in noddle form. Until then it was eaten as a sort of dumpling (a nice way, perhaps, of saying a lump). Now the name soba is synonymous with the brown noodles found all over Japan. And here in Matsumoto you’ll find some of the best.
Shinshu: Perfect for Growing Soba
With its high altitude, rich volcanic soil, and wide variations in temperature between day and night, Nagano Prefecture, historically known as Shinshu, is blessed with excellent conditions for growing quality soba. Nationwide, Nagano ranks second in soba production, trailing only vast and farm-rich Hokkaido.
Nagano also boasts a long tradition of soba-making, which means centuries of perfecting the milling and cooking processes. Both are crucial in serving up the best possible soba. On top of all this, the soba producers of Nagano hold themselves to a high standard, reflected in the Shinshu name.
Shinshu Soba: Best of the Brown Noodle
Shinshu soba is known throughout Japan as being some of the best you can get. To earn the name Shinshu soba the noodles must contain at minimum 40% soba flour – with the remainder consisting of wheat flour though some use no wheat at all.
All over Nagano, and right here in Matsumoto, you can find restaurants serving soba made with 100% soba flour. Look for the signs that read “十割そば” to get a taste of pure soba heaven, served cold on a plate with dipping sauce or hot in a bowl of broth.
Making Soba By Hand: An Exacting and Satisfying Experience
Here in Matsumoto soba masters make sure to pass down their expertise to the next generation. At the same time they are happy to share their traditions and methods with the rest of us! Learning to make soba noodles is not only a fun and interesting experience, but a chance to understand the work that goes into a plate of those simple brown noodles.
And hey, we’re not just spinning our noodle here. We know firsthand the effort it takes to properly mix, knead, roll and cut great soba noodles. So do all the people we’ve introduced to our soba master friends. It’s an exacting process – and one that is eminently satisfying when it’s time to slurp down the rewards of your work.
From its humble and lumpy beginnings soba has become a prized – and tasty – part of the landscape of Japanese cuisine. Though it remains in essence a simple brown noodle, it’s well worth sampling. And there’s no better way than to try some Shinshu soba, the best of the best, right here in Matsumoto.
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