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.