One of the most famous Japanese summer dishes is Zaru Soba. These buckwheat noodles are served cold alongside a dipping soup called tsuyu and oftentimes a raw egg yolk. On sweltering Japanese days this soba dish is so refreshing you’ll immediately fall in love with it.
Zaru Soba was the first dish I had in Japan on my first trip there back in 2005. We exited the plane in Osaka and after checking into our hotel we went to a noodle shop where I proceeded to order a dish of these cold buckwheat noodles from a ticket vending machine. I had never eaten cold noodles before (other than leftovers) and now completely understand how this is the perfect summer dish.
This recipe for Zaru-soba (ざるそば in Japanese) comes from my Aunt, who made it for me when I stayed with my family in Tokyo back in 2017. As she is Japanese I consider this an authentic recipe, although I do know that the raw egg can be a contentious dip.
What Is Zaru Soba?
Soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles. They can be a light tan color, all the way to dark grey. Surprisingly, buckwheat is not a wheat, which makes these noodles perfect for people with gluten sensitivities. That being said, some less reputable brands will use wheat as well, so it is important to check the ingredients list. However, out of all the popular Soba dishes, the classic zaru soba might be the most popular.
Zaru, meaning basket or colander in Japanese, is used to describe the cooking and preparation method. The cold noodles rest on a bamboo mat, which allows the excess cold water to drip off the noodles instead of pooling on the dish. There are a variety of traditional bamboo mats or baskets one can use, but I kind of cheated and used my bamboo sushi roller instead.
How To Make Zaru Soba
Soba noodles cook a lot faster than traditional wheat noodles. Depending on your brand they can take anywhere from 2-4 minutes, but usually not longer. I like to cook them in a pan so that the entire noodle is submerged and can boil at the same time.
Once the noodles are boiled the important part begins. Drain the noodles using a colander or strainer and run them under cold water to wash away any starchy water. This will also stop the cooking process and prevent the noodles from getting too soggy.
After a good rinse with running cold water it is time for an ice bath. This chills the noodles which is really important for zaru soba, since the dish is meant to be eaten during the hot and humid Japanese summer. I just add the noodles straight from the colander into a bowl of ice water for a few minutes.
Making The Dipping Soup
Zaru soba is traditionally served with a dipping soup called tsuyu. This is really easy to make, but you can also buy it pre-made from most Asian grocery stores. The recipe is simple, just 240 ml (1 cup) Dashi to 60 ml (1/4 cup) Soy Sauce, 50 ml Mirin (sweet rice wine), and 25 grams (about two tbsp) white sugar. Bring to a boil and immediately turn off the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature, or place in the fridge.
When serving, add a handful of chopped green onions to the soup. As it is a dipping soup, you just dip in the soba noodles for a quick second right before you eat them, if you find the soup too salty you can of course add a splash of water for more dilution.
Zaru Soba (Japanese Buckwheat Noodles)
- Bamboo Mat
- 200 grams Soba Noodles
- 240 ml Dashi
- 60 ml Soy Sauce
- 50 ml Mirin sweet rice wine
- 25 grams Sugar
- 2 tbsp Green Onion chopped
- 2 large Egg Yolk (optional)
- In a small pot combine the dashi, mirin, soy sauce, and sugar and bring to a boil. Once boiling turn off the heat and allow to come to room temperature (or place in fridge to speed up the process)
- Set a pan of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling add the dry soba noodles and cook for between 2-4 minutes (depending on package instructions).
- Strain the noodles with a colander and run under cold running water. Use your fingers to shake the noodles around.
- Add the noodles to a bowl filled with ice water for a few minutes to chill.
- Place the noodles directly from the ice bath on top of a bamboo mat so the water can drip away. Serve alongside the tsuyu dipping soup and a raw egg if desired (I recommend it)!