The summer months in Japan are almost unbearably hot. Especially in the big cities like Tokyo where the humidity is frazzling. Hot stews like shabu shabu and oden that once filled bellies throughout winter are long gone, and cold noodle dishes take over to combat the heat. Simplicity is at the core of Japanese cuisine and one dish, in particular, exemplifies this.
Zaru Soba or Zaru Udon is a cold noodle dish served with a cool soy dipping sauce. It’s light, but just filling enough. It’s the perfect way to cool down and if your tastebuds often crave umami rich flavors, it’s damn right delicious.
Zaru in Japanese means ‘strainer’ and refers to the bamboo straining basket that the noodles are served on. This is a tradition that started as far back as the Edo period.
The noodles of choice are either soba noodles, made from buckwheat flour, or round and bouncy udon noodles. If you’re a beginner to chopstix then udon noodles will probably be a bit of a headache; their slippery behaviour is an almighty test of patience. We’ve all been slapped in the face by a string of udon at some point in our lives. Nope? Just me then..
Soba noodles, or buckwheat noodles come in slightly different varieties. Some have a more pronounced buckwheat flavour, which is nutty and ever so slightly bitter. Some buckwheat noodles have a crumblier texture; this depends on the ratio of buckwheat used in the dough. The less buckwheat flour used, the smoother and chewier the noodles become when cooked.
Fancy making zaru soba or zaru udon at home?
Start by cooking the alcohol out of the sake. Put half a cup of sake in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Then add the mirin (2tbsp), soy sauce (150ml) and dashi stock (1 cup). Bring to the boil again, then simmer for 5 minutes.
After that, leave the sauce to cool while you cook the noodles. Cook until al dente, this should only take about 5 minutes. When the noodles are ready, plunge them into a bowl of ice cold water. If you’ve opted for soba noodles, make sure you give the noodles a good rinse in the cold water. This will wash away the excess starch which affects the flavour.
After that, strain the noodles water in a colander - or a zaru if you have one!
Once the noodles and the sauce have cooled, chop up some spring onions and sprinkle half into the dipping sauce and half over your noodles. A light sprinkle of wasabi is also embellished on top of the noodles. Remember that wasabi is pretty pungent, so be careful not to overdo it and blow your head off.
Once you’ve completed these steps you’re ready to dip the noodles into your homemade tsuyu sauce and slurp away. There's nothing more refreshing to eat on a hot summer evening.