Soba and Ramen are Different Things or the Same Thing?
When you hear “Soba (そば)”, what comes to mind? Traditional Japanese buckwheat noodles?
Actually, when we Japanese use the word Soba, in addition to the buckwheat noodles, it can refer to several different Japanese noodle dishes. Then, what noodle dishes are included in Soba?
7 Major Japanese Soba Noodles
Actually, there are 7 major Soba dishes in Japan. They are “Yaki Soba (焼きそば)”, “Shina Soba (支那そば)”, “Chuka Soba (中華そば)”, “Abura Soba (油そば)”, “Maze Soba (まぜそば)”, “Okinawa Soba (沖縄そば)”, and “Nihon Soba (日本そば)”.
For those who don’t know much about these Japanese noodle dishes, today I want to talk about the difference between them.
Yaki Soba (焼きそば)
Yaki Soba, together with Ramen, buckwheat Soba, and Udon, is one of the noodle dishes that represent Japan.
It is made by stir-frying boiled or steamed somewhat thick wheat noodles, pork belly slices, vegetables such as cabbage, carrot, onion, and bean sprout, together in a shallow pan with some oil.
Generally, Yaki Soba is flavored mainly with Worcester sauce, together with soy sauce, salt and pepper, during cooking.
This noodle dish is often made in Japanese households, so a variety of instant Yaki Soba noodles, including these, are available at supermarkets in Japan.
Shina Soba (支那そば) and Chuka Soba (中華そば)
From the above photo, you will probably think that this is a bowl of Ramen. Yes, actually Shina Soba and Chuka Soba are synonyms for Ramen.
Although the name of many Japanese ramen shops includes the word Soba, like Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta or Chuka Soba Tomita, in these cases, the Soba in the shop name derives from Shina Soba or Chuka Soba.
Abura Soba (油そば) and Maze Soba (まぜそば)
If you are acquainted with Japanese Ramen noodles, you may know about Abura Soba and Maze Soba. As you can guess, they are the same thing.
Abura Soba, also called Maze Soba, is a type of Ramen. Unlike usual Ramen, it is soupless.
Instead, soy-sauce-based sauce and sesame oil are set on the bottom of the bowl, onto which boiled noodles and toppings, like Chashu pork slices, Menma processed bamboo shoots, and chopped green onions, are placed.
Before eating, you add vinegar and chili oil to taste and need to mix up all the ingredients.
By the way, the Japanese word “Abura (油)” refers to oil, while Maze Soba is literally translated into English as Mixing Soba.
There are not only Abura Soba specialty shops in Japan, but instant Abura Soba or Maze Soba noodles, like this and this, are also available in grocery stores.
Okinawa Soba (沖縄そば)
As the name indicates, Okinawa Soba is a specialty noodle dish of Okinawa Prefecture.
The noodle for Okinawa Soba doesn’t contain buckwheat, but is made from wheat flour and has a texture similar to that of Udon noodles.
Generally, Okinawa Soba consists of a little bit curly, thick Udon-like noodles in the soy-sauce-based soup made with pork bones and dried bonito flakes.
Since this local noodle soup is popular nationwide, you can find Okinawa Soba shops in various places in Japan.
Nihon Soba (日本そば)
As you can see from the above, there are several major Soba dishes in Japan.
Hence, in order to distinguish traditional buckwheat Soba noodles from other Soba dishes, we Japanese usually call the buckwheat noodles Nihon Soba.