Zaru soba is a traditional Japanese dish made with buckwheat noodles served on a bamboo tray. It's enjoyed with a dashi based dipping sauce called "mentsuyu" and served cold. It's a refreshing dish perfect for hot days!
What is zaru soba (ざるそば)?
Zaru soba is a dish in which noodles made from buckwheat flour are boiled, cooled in cold water and then served on a type of bamboo tray known as a "zaru" (hence the name).
Generally zaru soba is served with finely chopped nori seaweed (kizami nori), chopped spring onions, wasabi and other condiments. It is then dipped in a dashi based dipping sauce.
Because zaru soba is served cold, it's a refreshing dish to enjoy on hot days. It's common to eat on its own or with tempura.
Japanese soba (buckwheat noodles) are a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour processed from buckwheat seeds. It is available throughout Japan, but according to the National Federation of Noodle Manufacturing Cooperative Associations, true Japanese soba (日本そば) are the noodles that are made from at least 30% buckwheat flour and 70% wheat flour.
Soba noodles are not gluten free unless stated on the packaging.
Other than zaru soba, there are a few other soba noodle recipes available on my website too!
What is "Zaru"?
"Zaru" (ざる) is a type of flat bamboo straining tray. You'll often see cold udon or soba noodles served on a "zaru" in Japan, as it allows the excess water to drain off of the noodles.
I don't expect many people outside Japan have a zaru at home, so you can also serve your noodles on a bamboo sushi mat placed on top of a bowl or plate as an alternative option.
Alternatively, for a more authentic look, you can buy a bamboo zaru or zaru with dipping bowl set on Amazon.
Brief history of zaru soba
The history of zaru soba dates back to the Edo period (1600 - 1868). The most promising theory is that it started when soba noodles were served on bamboo trays at a soba restaurant called "Iseya" in Fukagawa (an area in Tokyo) at that time.
Later, in the Meiji era (1868-1912), they started to put nori (seaweed) on the colander to make it easier to distinguish it from the original dish called "morisoba", but until then the only difference was the container in which it was served.
Main differences among zaru soba, mori soba, kake soba
As mentioned earlier, it is widely known that mori soba is the original form of zaru soba. However, this question often comes up "what are the differences? Firstly, I will dive into the difference between zaru soba and mori soba.
Differences between zaru soba and mori soba
Actually, the original form of mori soba is called bukkake soba. The origin of bukkake soba comes from innovative people in Tokyo who thought maybe it's faster and easier to pour dipping sauce directly over the soba rather than dip them.
This spread across Japan and became well-known nationwide. It was then that the style of dipping the noodles in the sauce started to be called 'morisoba' in order to differentiate it from the bukkake soba.
So, the differences between zaru soba and mori soba are whether soba noodles are on a "zaru" and existence of nori (seaweed).
However, these days there is little difference between zaru soba and mori soba in terms of ingredients and taste and many restaurants do not distinguish between the two.
Differences between zaru soba and kake soba
The differences between zaru soba and kake soba are fairly simple, it's whether it's hot or cold. Technically there are a few more little differences but the temperature is the main one.
The other thing is, zaru soba is served on a bamboo tray with dipping sauce, whereas kake soba is served in a bowl with hot soup.
Zaru Soba Dipping Sauce
Both zaru soba and zaru udon are served with a dipping sauce we call "mentsuyu". You can easily buy a bottle of mentsuyu in Japanese supermarkets, but it's also simple to make at home!
Mentsuyu usually contains:
I use "awase dashi" which is a Japanese stock made with kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). You can use either dashi bags or instant dashi for a shortcut, or alternatively make it yourself with my homemade awase dashi recipe here! (If you don't eat fish, you can check out my recipe for vegan awase dashi.)
I also like to soak a dried shiitake mushroom in my mentsuyu to add extra umami.
The sauce is heated in a pan to cook the alcohol off the mirin, however mentsuyu should be served cold. You can let it cool at room temperature, but I'm impatient so I usually transfer it to a heatproof jug and then place it in a bowl of ice. If you use this method it should be cold enough in about 5-10 minutes.
Finally, I recommend adding extra flavours to your dipping sauce such as wasabi, grated ginger or grated daikon radish!
I hope you enjoy this refreshing zaru soba and homemade dipping sauce on a hot summer's day!Print
Zaru Soba (Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Homemade Mentsuyu Dipping Sauce)
- Total Time: 20 minutes
- Yield: 2 portions
How to make refreshing Japanese zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles) with homemade mentsuyu dipping sauce.
- 100ml Awase Dashi (kelp and bonito flake stock)
- 20ml Soy sauce (4 tsp)
- 20ml Mirin (4 tsp)
- 1 tsp Sugar
- 1 Dried shiitake mushroom
- 2 portions Soba noodles
- Ice cubes for chilling
- ¼ sheet Nori (optional)
- 1 tsp Wasabi
- 1 tsp Ginger grated
- 2 tbsp Tenkasu (tempura batter crumbs)
- 2 tbsp Spring onion finely chopped
- Take a small pan and add 100ml of awase dashi, 20ml of soy sauce and 20ml of mirin.
- Place the pan on the stove and bring the sauce to a boil. Allow it to boil for 1 minute to burn off the alcohol in the mirin.
- Add 1 tsp of sugar to the pan and mix until it's dissolved into the liquid.
- Take the pan off the heat, pour the dipping sauce into a heatproof jug and add 1 dried shiitake mushroom.
- Place the jug in a bowl of ice to cool it quickly. The mentsuyu is complete.
- Cook your soba noodles according the the instructions on the packaging.
- Once it's cooked, pour the soba noodles into a strainer to drain away the water. Rinse the noodles under cold running water and add a few ice cubes to make them extra cold.
- Take ¼ a sheet of nori and cut it into thin strips to make kizami nori.
- Take two small plates and to each one, add ½ tsp wasabi, ½ tsp grated ginger, 1 tbsp tenkasu and 1 tbsp chopped spring onion.
- Place the soba noodles on the "zaru" (it's also fine to add a few extra ice cubes here). Sprinkle nori over the noodles. (You can use a bamboo sushi mat on a plate if you don't have a zaru.)
- Pour your dipping sauce into 2 serving cups.
- Each serving should have a portion of soba, a cup of cold mentsuyu dipping sauce and a small plate of ingredients to flavour the sauce.
- Enjoy on its own or with light and crispy tempura!
You can use the same recipe to make zaru udon, just replace the udon noodles with soba noodles.
If you're doubling or tripling the recipe, the mentsuyu will take longer to cool.
You can keep left over mentsuyu in the fridge for about 1 month so I recommend making extra if you plan to make zaru udon or zaru soba often during the summer!
If you want to make it vegan, you can use my vegan awase dashi recipe.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cooling Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Noodles
- Method: Boiling
- Cuisine: Japanese
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