Looking for a way to enjoy a hot bowl of ramen noodles but skip the time consuming broth? Well look no further than Abura Soba! This delicious dish is flavoured with a rich homemade tare (sauce) that is super easy to make. Simply add your favourite toppings, mix well and enjoy!
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What is "Abura Soba"?
Abura soba (油そば) is a type of ramen dish made with noodles and various toppings sitting on top of a delicious "tare" or sauce. Before eating, you must mix the ingredients thoroughly until they're coated in the sauce. Vinegar and chili oil are commonly added too.
The main thing that sets this dish apart from regular ramen is the fact that there's no soupy broth. But what it lacks in broth, it makes up for in flavour.
What does "Abura Soba" mean?
The word "abura" means "oil" in Japanese, so when you translate the name of the dish directly, it means "oil noodles". Despite the questionable name, the dish is not oily, in fact, little oil is used at all.
A better translation for the dish is "soupless ramen". It uses the same noodles and toppings as a typical ramen dish after all.
There are also different names for the dish, such as:
- Monja soba (もんじゃそば)
- Maze soba (まぜそば)
- Tenuki soba (手抜きそば)
- Abu ramen (あぶらーめん)
The name used depends on the restaurant or region, it might also depend on the sauce or toppings.
The name "maze soba" (混ぜそば) or "mixed soba" was actually born in Aichi, where I live. Generally if the soup-less ramen style is "Aichi style" (such as Taiwan maze soba), the name automatically changes to maze soba instead.
History of Abura Soba
Abura soba is said to have appeared in Tokyo around the mid 1950's. There are two theories regarding the origins of this dish.
The first is that abura soba was first served at a restaurant near Hitotsubashi University in Kunitachi, Tokyo around 1953. The other is that it was created in a restaurant near Asia University in Musashino, also located in Tokyo.
With these two universities only being about a 30 minute train ride away from each other, it's pretty safe to say that abura soba originated from that general area.
In the end, abura soba is a dish that has been popular among university students and young working people in Tokyo since the 50's.
Popular toppings for abura soba
Each restaurant has different set of toppings but here are the popular examples:
- Menma (fermented bamboo shoots)
- Chashu (braised pork)
- Narutomaki (Japanese fish cake)
- Spring onion
- Soft boiled eggs
- Ajitsuke tamago (flavoured ramen eggs)
- Garlic paste (I use S&B garlic paste)
Noodles used in Abura Soba
If you're familiar with types of Japanese noodles, you will know that soba are a type of noodle made with buckwheat flour. Another misleading aspect of the name "abura soba" is that they are not made with soba noodles, confusing right?
Well actually, there's a reasonable explanation for this part at least. In Japanese, ramen noodles can be called "Chinese noodles" (chuukamen / 中華麺) or "Chinese soba" (Chuuka Soba / 中華そば). So the "soba" part of the name actually means "chuuka soba" and not buckwheat soba noodles. The same rule goes for yakisoba too.
Ramen noodles made with wheat flour and cooked in lye are the type to be used for ramen in general.
Make Ramen Noodles from Spaghetti (cooking hack!)
If you have a hard time finding ramen noodles in your country, then this trick might be for you. This tip was created by Japanese people who live abroad and it really works!
Buying ramen noodles outside of Japan
Things might have changed since my student days, but one of the biggest problems I faced while I lived in England was "Where do I buy ramen noodles?"
There was one time where I tried to make the ramen noodles from scratch... but it was a lot of hassle, it took a long time and it made a big mess too. (Sorry to my housemates at the time!)
I almost gave up on making ramen in my kitchen (a sad and devastating time for a Japanese man, I can tell you!) But I found a cheat way to make ramen egg noodles from spaghetti! Of course it's not technically the same but it's surprisingly close in taste and texture, not to mention quick and mess free!
Spaghetti and baking soda!?
Later, I got to know that this trick is very popular among Japanese people who live abroad who also cannot easily buy ramen noodles, so it's not only me who thinks the trick is good enough!
The trick is, cook normal spaghetti in water, salt and baking soda mix! That's it! You can see the full instructions and measurements to make your own ramen noodles from spaghetti and baking soda here. I know it doesn't sound promising but trust me and the other folks on that one.
I find this trick works especially well for abura soba too!
General rules for eating abura soba
Some types of ramen have rules or instructions on how to eat. They're not strict rules, but they're recommended in order to enjoy the dish to the max! Abura soba is one such dish that has "rules" to follow, you can adjust each step to your preference!
These steps can vary from each restaurant, but I will list some common ones here that you can apply to your homemade abura soba!
Pour the vinegar over the bowl. A good rule of thumb is to pour about 1 round of vinegar on a regular serving. This adds balance to the dish.
We typically use rice vinegar.
Add sesame oil base chili oil
The next step after the vinegar is to pour sesame based chili oil (raayu). The amount is roughly the same as vinegar (1 round on a regular serving).
Adjust the amount according to your taste and spice tolerance.
This adds some heat and also makes the noodles a bit glossy. If you don't like spicy food, you could substitute this for plain sesame oil too.
While I mentioned ramen rules are optional, this one is really important to follow. It is basically the "golden rule" of abura soba, you must mix the ingredients and sauce thoroughly to avoid uneven taste. It will look messy but that's the beauty of abura soba!
Eat while it's hot
Abura soba tends to lose its flavor as it cools down. Serve it hot with the vinegar and raayu.
You should add the vinegar and raayu right at the beginning before mixing, this way they will combine well with the hot noodles that heat up the sauce. (Adding them later will result in uneven flavour.)