A trip to Nagano could never be complete without trying some of the local specialities. In Nagano, “soba noodles” is the most popular signature dish. Most Japanese tourists have it on top of their “What To Eat List” when visiting Nagano.
The origin of soba is unclear but it is said that soba was an alternative source of food when the rice harvest was poor. Soba noodles are noodles made from buckwheat flour and are as thick as spaghetti. Soba is generally hand-made but lately the use of machines for making soba is on the uprise. However, many of soba-specialized restaurants still maintain the traditional way of hand-made soba. Hand-made soba is regarded as higher quality than those made by machine.
One thing important for a first timer of Japan and of eating soba noodles, is that it is socially accepted and even expected to make noise when eating Japanese style noodles (soba, udon, ramen). This is not the norm in most Western countries but when eating soba do not be surprised by the slurping and just participate! It might take a bit of practice, but it’ll make it taste better!
It is eaten either cold or hot depending on your preference. Cold soba is customarily put on a bamboo draining basket with dipping sauce (tsuyu) made of bonito-based soup and soy sauce. The way to eat cold soba is quite easy. First, you will want to put some spring onion and wasabi in the cup, don’t put in all at once, because you don’t want the onion or wasabi be overpowering for your taste. Seocnd, you take some soba noodels with your chopsticks and insert them in the cup and slurp them! A tempura plate is a common side dish with cold soba. When going for the hot soba, the soba will be presented in a bowl of hot, fish-based soup and toppings (e.g. tempura, egg, mushroom, or dried tofu).
If you want to try soba near the snow monkey park, Soba Roku offers a wonderful combination of soba and tempura.
Please be aware that soba is made of buckwheat and some people are allergic to it. If that is the case, udon noodles, made of just wheat, are also available as an alternative option at many soba restaurants.