Tempura Soba is a classic Japanese noodle dish. Buckwheat noodles are served in a hot dashi broth and then topped with deep fried tempura shrimp and vegetables. It’s perfect for lunch or dinner!
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Tempura Soba (天ぷらそば)
Tempura soba (also known as "tensoba" for short) is like two classic Japanese dishes in one. Soba noodles are served in a hot dashi broth which on its own this dish is known as “kake soba”. (You can check out my kake udon recipe here too!)
The kake soba is then topped with a variety of tempura, a popular dish made by frying ingredients in a light crispy batter. Shrimp is the most common ingredient served on tempura soba, but a variety of vegetables can be used too.
Soba is a type of noodle made from buckwheat flour and has a distinctive greyish brown colour. The dried variety are most readily available and you can purchase them here on Amazon.
Compared to other types of noodles, soba are considered relatively healthy and are known for having a low gluten content. (They’re not considered gluten-free unless they’re 100% buckwheat flour so always check the packaging.)
Soba noodles also have a great history of roughly 1400 years and are considered one of the most iconic Japanese dishes along with sushi or tempura.
Making the broth
- Homemade dashi mixed with soy sauce and mirin
- Dashi bags mixed with soy sauce and mirin
- "Mentsuyu" mixed with water
In my opinion, homemade dashi tastes the best and it's easier to adapt to your own preferences. (Check out my homemade vegetarian dashi if you want to make a vegetarian version.)
However the other two methods are definitely quicker. Dashi bags can be added to hot water and then mixed with mirin and soy sauce.
Mentsuyu is a concentrated noodle broth that you simply mix with water. It already contains mirin, soy sauce and dashi so you don't need any other special ingredients. You can purchase mentsuyu sauce on Amazon here and learn more about how to use it on my kake udon post here.
Hot VS Cold
The great thing about tempura soba, is it can be served hot OR cold and be enjoyed all year around.
In summer, you might feel it’s too hot to be eating noodles in hot soup. In this case, you can serve the soba noodles cold with a dipping sauce instead. We call this dish “zaru soba” and you can learn how to make the dipping sauce with my recipe here.
Tempura is typically made with seafood and vegetables that are coated in a light, fluffy batter and then deep fried. It's an iconic dish with a long history.
Tempura was actually brought to Japan by Portuguese merchants back in the 16th century, we've literally been enjoying tempura for hundreds of years!
There's no strict rule on what ingredients you use, but in my recipe I use the following:
- Shrimp (large type like tiger shrimp)
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Shiso/Oba (perilla leaves)
Of course, you can “tempura” anything you like! Other options include kabocha (Japanese squash), renkon (lotus root), asparagus and okra just to name a few!
Tips for making the perfect tempura batter
Tempura should be light, crispy and pale in colour. It can be tricky to get it right so I’ve put together a list of tips and tricks to help you achieve the perfect Japanese tempura batter!
Before you even start mixing anything, your ingredients should be chilled.
A cold batter is going to react more strongly when it hits the hot oil, making it puff up quickly. This is the main characteristic of tempura!
So that’s why every ingredient should be chilled. And that’s every ingredient, even the flour! I like to store everything in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before I use it.
Once your batter is mixed, I recommend keeping it in the fridge or freezer when you’re not using it. This will help keep it nice and cold between frying batches.
Prepping your ingredients
Before mixing your batter, I recommend having all your ingredients prepared in advance.
Shrimp should be deshelled and deveined, and vegetables should be washed, dried (thoroughly with a paper towel) and cut.
Tip: If you use eggplant or any type of potato for tempura, soak it in cold water for 5-10 minutes and then dry thoroughly before frying. This prevents them soaking up too much oil.
I also coat the ingredients with a thin layer of weak flour, this helps the batter stick to the surface.
It’s important not to overmix your batter. One of the characteristics of tempura is the bubbly texture and if your batter is too smooth then the surface of your tempura will look too flat.
To avoid this, rather than using a whisk, I use chopsticks (a spatula is also fine) and draw crosses in the mixture rather than actually mixing it.
This is the rare case where a lumpy batter is a good thing!
Oil type and temperature
It’s important to use an oil with a high smoke point. Examples of this would be vegetable oil, canola oil or peanut oil.
Actually, many professional chefs in Japan make tempura using white sesame oil made from raw sesame seeds (not the roasted kind!). It makes a difference but it's pretty expensive so I don't recommend it unless you plan to make tempura often.
In terms of the temperature, I recommend frying tempura at about 180°C (355°F). If the temperature is too low, the batter becomes oily and soggy while if it’s too high, the batter becomes too dark and the inside might not be cooked enough. (This is especially important for prawns/fish!)
When frying tempura, you will find pieces break off and float around in the oil. Make sure to remove them between batches otherwise they will burn and make your oil bitter, spoiling future batches.
In Japan, we call these little pieces of tempura batter "tenkasu" and we save them for other dishes! Just place them on kitchen paper to absorb the excess oil and then keep them in a zip lock bag in the freezer. You can use them as a topping in noodle soups or in recipes like devil's onigiri!
Soba noodles are made mainly buckwheat flour, wheat flour and water.
Soba noodles are thin, grey-ish brown and made mainly from buckwheat flour whereas udon noodles are thick, white and made from regular wheat flour.
The noodles themselves are suitable for vegans but of course, it depends on the dish. (Broths/dipping sauces might contain fish or meat.)
Tempura is made from a light batter, the result is crispy and airy whilst being pale in colour. Panko is a type of breadcrumb coating. The layer is thicker and crunchier and the color is golden.
Any oil that can handle high temperatures is good for deep frying. Vegetable oil, canola oil and peanut oil are common. Professionals in Japan sometimes use light/raw sesame oil (not toasted) which can be quite expensive.
Either your batter wasn't cold enough or your oil wasn't hot enough. Those are usually the two main reasons for soggy tempura batter. See in post for tips on how to make the perfect tempura batter.