Food culture experience is something you wouldn't want to miss out when you visit Japan. There are a lot of activities you can find; some are available in most part of Japan while some may be available only in certain part of Japan due to it being a regional specialty. If you ever have the chance to visit Fukui prefecture, I would suggest you to try out the Echizen soba making experience.
There is an interesting anecdote regarding the origin of Echizen soba. The name Echizen soba was said to have originated from a remark made by the Showa emperor. In 1947, Emperor Showa or also known by his name Hirohito, went to Echizen in Fukui and had two servings of the oroshi soba. After returning to the Imperial Palace, he said that the soba in Echizen was delicious and that he wanted to eat it again. And since then, it became known as Echizen soba.
There are several places which conduct such activity, but this time I will introduce to you the one conducted at Starland Sakadani in Ono city. Starland Sakadani is a facility building offering agricultural experiences such as soba making and other activities, located approximately 10km away from Ono city center. The soba making workshop room is spacious and has several large windows where you can enjoy a nice view while making your own soba.
Before you can actually start making your own soba, the instructor will provide a brief explanation on the production of the soba or buckwheat noodles. Fukui prefecture is a very underrated prefecture for its soba as most people may know Nagano prefecture as the most famous for soba or buckwheat noodle. It is surprising to know that Fukui prefecture has the most native species of buckwheat with 6 species, while Nagano prefecture has only 4 species. Fukui prefecture's soba special characteristics compare to those from other prefectures are; the grains are small, the cuticles are thick and has a good aroma.
There is a big board on the wall with photos and simple explanations on how to make the soba noodles step-by-step, but fret not, because the instructor will guide you. You might think the process is not that difficult but wait till you actually start to do it on your own. It is not difficult but may be challenging, and it is actually a fun activity.
Below are the brief explanation on how to make soba summarized in 4 photos.
Filter and mix the buckwheat flour, add water little by little to buckwheat flour and continue to mix well. When the buckwheat flour has absorbed the water, knead into a dough ball.
Spread the dough by using your palm to make a circle shape with approximately 2cm thickness.
Roll the dough into a big circle with approximately 40cm diameter using a rolling pin, then roll and unroll the dough to spread and corner and shape it into a big square.
Fold the flattened dough into three, then cut into approximately 2mm width.
And... your handmade Echizen soba will be will be scooped and put into a tray as below, ready to be cooked! I have to say that the best part comes after this. The soba will be cooked and served as lunch. The soba making process requires energy that by the time you're done, you'll be feeling a little worn out and very hungry.
The handmade soba were served in two different styles; served in dashi based soup topped with plenty of grated white radish and grated dried bonito, and served dry with several types of condiments.
The first serving which is the left photo above is the Echizen oroshi soba. This is how it is typically served at any Echizen soba restaurant you can find in Fukui prefecture. It is served cold. The soba noodles were soft, and when mixed with the dashi soup and grated white radish and grated dried bonito, it tastes refreshing. Each flavor do not overpower each other, so you can actually taste everything as it is.
The second serving which is the right photo above is another way of eating soba in Fukui prefecture. Try eating the dry cold soba together with saba shioyaki flakes (grilled mackerel flakes), kinpira gobo (braised burdock root), kombu tsukudani (simmered kombu seaweed), or any types of condiments. Some condiments may have a strong flavor, however they do not overpower the taste of the soba. It was my first time trying this way of eating soba, but I really liked it.
Knowing how the food ingredient was produced and how the dish was made gives you a different sense of appreciation towards food. While the technology advances and foods are processed and made using high technology machines, you can still find some people making it using the traditional techniques, but you can will come to realize that the handmade ones are much better tasting! Why not find out yourself when you visit Fukui, Japan!!