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?
Zaru Soba (ざるそば) is a Japanese dish that consists of buckwheat noodles boiled, cooled in cold water, and served on a bamboo tray called a “zaru.”
The dish is typically served with finely chopped nori seaweed, chopped spring onions, wasabi, and other condiments. It is then dipped in a dashi-based dipping sauce.
According to the National Federation of Noodle Manufacturing Cooperative Associations, true Japanese soba noodles (日本そば) are made from a mixture of 30% buckwheat flour and 70% wheat flour.
The “zaru” is a flat bamboo straining tray commonly used to drain excess water from cold soba or udon noodles in Japan. If you do not have a zaru, you can use a bamboo sushi mat or sieve placed on top of a bowl or plate as an alternative option.
The origins of Zaru Soba can be traced back to the Edo period (1600 – 1868). Soba noodles were originally served on bamboo trays at a Tokyo restaurant called “Iseya.” Later on, nori seaweed was added to the dish to differentiate it from the original dish called “morisoba,” which was served without the seaweed.
How I Developed This Recipe
Ingredients and Substitution Ideas
- Dashi Stock: Choose any dashi that suits your preference. Convenient options include dashi packets and instant granules. For those inclined towards homemade versions, consider trying my favorite dashi, simple awase dashi, or vegan dashi recipes.
- Soy Sauce: I recommend Kikkoman soy sauce as a cost-effective and trustworthy option. Dive deeper into the world of soy sauce with my dedicated soy sauce guide tailored to Japanese cuisine.
- Mirin: When shopping for mirin, I recommend always choosing “hon mirin” (本みりん) for authentic flavor. Hinode Hon Mirin is a good choice in terms of quality and cost. For a broader perspective on Japanese condiments, don’t miss my 20 Most Useful Condiments and Seasonings for Japanese Cooking article.
- Sugar: While standard sugar works well, I often like to use brown cane sugar.
- Soba Noodles: Dried soba noodles are the most straightforward and recommended option for homemade preparations.
- Shredded Sushi Nori Seaweed (Kizami Nori): An optional addition, but it certainly elevates the dish’s visual appeal.
- Wasabi Paste: To me, zaru soba feels incomplete without wasabi. However, it’s a matter of personal preference, so choose between wasabi paste or fresh wasabi, or skip it altogether.
- Grated Ginger: A delightful choice for those who enjoy its zing. Especially handy if you’ve decided against wasabi, ginger paste introduces a refreshing twist.
- Tempura Flakes (Tenkasu): Immerse them in mentsuyu to let them absorb the flavors. While I consider them indispensable for zaru soba, they can be left out based on individual taste.
- Finely Chopped Green Onion: An optional sprinkle that infuses the dish with a burst of color and freshness.
Use a plant-based dashi such as my shiitake and kombu dashi to make this dish suitable for vegetarians and vegans!
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Here are my step-by-step instructions for how to make delicious Japanese zaru soba at home. For ingredient quantities and simplified instructions, scroll down for the printable recipe card below.
Add the dashi stock, soy sauce and mirin to a saucepan and boil for 1 minute. Add the sugar and mix until dissolved, then remove from the heat.
Transfer the sauce to a heatproof jug and add 1 dried shiitake mushroom. Allow to cool, and once cool to the touch, chill in the fridge until it’s time to serve.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and cook your soba noodles according to the instructions on the packaging.
Place a sieve or colander in the sink and pour the soba noodles in to drain. Rinse with cold water to cool them quickly, then place the sieve in a bowl of cold water and add ice to make the noodles extra cold and stop them from sticking together.
For each serving, arrange a small plate with a pinch of chopped green onion and a blob of grated ginger and wasabi (optional). I also recommend serving zaru soba with tenkasu (tempura bits) to soak up the flavor of the sauce!
Drain the soba and transfer it to a bamboo tray (or similar) with a plate underneath to prevent leaks. Top with shredded nori and serve each portion with its own bowl of dipping sauce and small plate of additional ingredients.
Mix your choice of ingredients into the sauce, dip the noodles in and enjoy!
For optimal soba texture, eat them immediately after cooking. If they dry and clump together, rinse with fresh water to revive and unstick them. For later use, wrap in plastic, refrigerate, and eat within 24 hours.
You can keep the mentsuyu sauce in a sterilized container in the fridge for up to two weeks or freeze it for up to one month.
More Cold Noodle Dishes
If you’re looking for more refreshing Japanese noodle dishes to keep you cool in summer, check out some of my other recipes:
- Zaru Udon
- Soba Salad with Summer Vegetables
- Hiyashi Chuka (Ramen Salad)
- Chilled Chicken and Citrus Somen Soup
Zaru Soba (Cold Buckwheat Noodles with Homemade Dipping Sauce)
- Bamboo Zaru
- 100 ml dashi stock I recommend kelp and bonito flake stock or kombu/shiitake dashi for plant-based diets
- 20 ml soy sauce
- 20 ml mirin
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 dried shiitake mushroom(s)
- 120 g dry soba noodles (approx 60g/2oz per portion)
- ice cubes for cooling
- 2 tbsp shredded sushi nori seaweed “kizami nori” (kizami nori) optional
- Take a small pan and add 100 ml dashi stock, 20 ml soy sauce and 20 ml mirin. Boil for 1 minute, add 1 tsp sugar to the pan and mix until dissolved.
- Take the pan off the heat, pour the dipping sauce into a heatproof jug and add 1 dried shiitake mushroom(s). Leave to cool, then once cool to the touch, chill in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
- Cook 120 g dry soba noodles according to the instructions on the packaging (usually 5-6 minutes).
- Once cooked, pour the soba noodles into a strainer and drain away the cooking water. Rinse under cold water and add a few ice cubes to chill them quickly.
- Divide 1 tsp wasabi paste, 1 tsp fresh ginger, 2 tbsp tempura flakes and 2 tbsp finely chopped green onion(s) between small individual serving plates.
- Place the soba noodles on the "zaru" and sprinkle 2 tbsp shredded sushi nori seaweed “kizami nori” over the top. Serve each portion with individual cups of dipping sauce and the plate of additional ingredients to mix in.
- Enjoy it on its own or with crispy tempura!