March 10 2016

The Restorative Power of Soba Noodles with Chef Sonoko Sakai

Los Angeles-Cures
5 Things You Should Know...

Impossibly fresh, carefully prepared sushi. Impeccably flavored soups. Intricate, delicate snack dishes. Centuries-old tea ceremonies. Anyone familiar with Japanese culture knows that grub is a pretty big deal, and food and drink hold an elevated, ritualized status. Soba, or earthy buckwheat noodles, are delicious, yes, but they are also considered an important part of the year-end/new year ritual in Japan, as they are thought to detox not just the body but also the soul. By slurping these special noodles, a person clears out the bad to make way for good.

Recently The Standard, Downtown LA hosted a soba making class taught by Los Angeles soba expert, Japanese food writer, and chef Sonoko Sakai. Sakai, who fell in love with the ancient noodles and learned the art of soba under a master chef at Hosokowa in Tokyo, teaches soba classes, workshops, and pop-ups in Los Angeles. Sakai is also the founder of Common Grains, an organization dedicated to growing high quality heirloom grains and creating a sustainable agricultural grain hub in Southern California with a seed grant from Anson Mills, the same mill that provided the class with insanely fresh buckwheat for our soba. Just milled the day before, it was velvety to the touch and smelled rich and nutty. 

Here are the lessons Chef Sakai taught us about the curative effects of soba on hunger, health, and the soul.

1) The key to excellent soba: “New crop buckwheat, milled freshly, made entirely by hand and served with seasonal ingredients from the land and sea.” And by fresh, she means FRESH—the flour used in The Standard’s soba workshop was milled the day before.

Soba Noodle workshop in The Lobby of The Standard, Downtown LA&nbsp;<br><br>

Soba Noodle workshop in The Lobby of The Standard, Downtown LA 

2) Buckwheat is gluten free and in no way related to wheat. “Buckwheat is a wholesome food high in protein, minerals, and fiber. It is also highly digestible and is known to clean the blood and lower cholesterol. It's a healing food.  Since it is also gluten free, it digests very well.”
The Standard
The Standard
Coaxing the perfect noodles&nbsp;

Coaxing the perfect noodles 

3) Learn from bees and buckwheat. “Buckwheat needs the bees for pollination. Bees need the buckwheat for the nectar. They coexist. This biodynamic relationship is basic to life.  We are very much like bees and buckwheat, but humans have introduced many things that prohibit or deter that biodynamic cycle.”  

4) Soba is like yoga. It slows down the rhythm of life: “It’s a practice to unclutter your mind and clean your body. Making soba by hand is a slow process. It helps slow you down on a human scale. It has been used as temple food for monks—they would take just buckwheat when they went into the mountains to meditate.”

5) Simplicity is the ultimate deliciousness:  As a meal, much like life, soba is best when served simply—with a dipping sauce and just a few sides, like pickled daikon radish or cucumber. A delicious food that cleans the blood, massages the mind, and soothes the soul? You had me at first slurp. To learn more about the noodle dish or even better, learn how to prepare it yourself, check out Sakai’s website for upcoming classes. 
<div><div><div><div><div>Hand cut soba noodles ready to be cooked</div></div></div></div></div><div><div><div><div><div><div><br></div></div></div></div></div></div>

Hand cut soba noodles ready to be cooked

Photos
Melissa Manning
Writer
Yasi Salek