Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. It is synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour.

Soba noodles are served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in a hot broth as a noodle soup. It takes three months for buckwheat to be ready for harvest, so it can be harvested four times a year, mainly in spring, summer, and autumn. Soba that is made with newly harvested buckwheat is called ”shin-soba”. It is sweeter and more flavorful than regular soba.

A special kind of soba dish is Toshikoshi Soba, a symbol of longevity, that is only eaten on New Year’s Eve.

Popular soba dishes

Soba can be served either hot or cold. Below are some of the more common varieties tourists will encounter. 

Mori/Zaru Soba (cold)

The most basic kind of chilled soba served on a tray with a simple chilled dipping sauce (tsuyu) served on the side. The dipping sauce is usually a mixture of soup stock, water and mirin. There are historical differences between Zaru and Mori soba. However in recent times, one major difference between the two is zaru soba has nori seaweed on top of the soba noodles while mori soba does not.


Kake Soba (hot)

Soba noodles served in a bowl of hot, clear broth. The broth is made of the same components as the dipping sauce for the chilled soba, but in a lower concentration.


Kitsune Soba (hot/cold)

Kitsune Soba comes with a piece of aburaage, thin sheets of fried tofu, on top of the soba noodles. When in Osaka, if you wanted soba with a piece of aburaage on top, you will have to ask for Tanuki Soba instead.


Tanuki Soba (hot/cold)

Tanuki Soba is served with a helping of tenkasu, crunchy bits of leftover fried tempura batter. In Osaka, the same soba with a helping of tenkasu is known as Haikara Soba.


Tempura Soba (hot/cold)

This soba dish comes with a serving of tempura either on the side or on top of the noodles. There are usually three to five different kinds of tempura pieces, and the ingredients varies from shop to shop. The noodles are served either on a tray (as on the photo) or in a soup.

How to Eat Soba

Depending on how your soba are served, the way of eating differs:

Soba served in a soup (usually the hot ones) are enjoyed by using your chopsticks to lead the noodles into your mouth while making a slurping sound. The slurping enhances the flavors and helps cool down the hot noodles as they enter your mouth. The broth is drunk directly from the bowl, eliminating the need for a spoon. It is not considered rude to leave some unfinished soup in the bowl at the end of the meal.

For soba that are served with a dipping sauce (usually the cold ones), there are a few more steps before you can enjoy them. First, mix some of the green onions and wasabi into the dipping sauce. Then take a few strands of soba noodles and dip them into the sauce before eating them.

If your soba were served with a dipping sauce, some soba restaurants will give you a little teapot (see photo to the right) towards the end of the meal that is filled with what looks like hot cloudy water. This is sobayu, the water that the soba noodles were cooked in. Sobayu is meant to be poured into your remaining dipping sauce after you have finished your noodles. This is how you can finish your dipping sauce by drinking this mixture and adjusting the amount of sobayu as you prefer.

Honke Owariya

A purveyor to the Imperial Household, it has a history that goes back over five hundred and forty years. It is the oldest noodle shop in Kyoto. Over the centuries, Owariya has served emperors and shoguns as well as the monks of many of the temples of Kyoto.

Owariya is very popular with both locals and visitors for it’s soba noodles as well as soba confectioneries.

I thoroughly enjoyed my meal here. I ordered the Ho-Rai Soba meal which consisted of five stacked trays of soba with instructions on how to best enjoy the meal.

Wakuden Itsutsu

Right next to the Daitokuji temple, there’s a soba restaurant that’s not well known amongst tourists, located above Wakuden, a kaiseki restaurant.

Calm and zen-like with its traditional earthen wall and wooden bar, Wakuden Itsutsu offers up a selection of small plates that are perfect between sips of saké , and before their famous soba (cold buckwheat flour noodles), which is both excellent and refined here. If it’s your first time, the easiest thing to do is to order the omakase menu of the day, which comes with a spinach or shiitake aemono (salad in a soy/mirin/dashi sauce), an original agemono (tempura) or a sabasushi (marinated mackerel sushi) as you wait for the noodles to arrive. They have a very good sake selection that changes frequently. Menus 4,000¥, à la carte 6,000¥ at lunch and 6,000 to 8,000¥ at night. Reservations are possible starting at 5pm, by telephone.

Sobaya Nicolas

When touring the Nishijin area, this is a good choice for lunch or dinner.

“Incidentally, Nicolas is named after abstract painter Nicolas de Stael, a hero to chef and owner Koichi Numata. Both men carry the torch of invention and experimentation in their own way, but there is nothing abstract about Numata’s exquisite cooking.” J.J. O’Donoghue

Delicious hand made soba, hot or cold, accompanied by three interesting appetizers in a course meal.
Staff is friendly and speak some English.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to see them make the soba. Wine and sake are available. Photos are not allowed.
Reservations are recommended.