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Soba

I was born and my parents grew up in an area where cheese type was identified by color. One color. If you doubt me or do not understand, read The Yellow Kind, I Guess here. Eating out was mostly about value and portion size. One of my uncles and his wife ate virtually nothing but starches – dinner consisted of potatoes, macaroni, and a stack of white bread with, perhaps, a token pot of boiled carrots.

It was the very olden days, a time before the Internet or cable TV. I had never had any ethnic cuisine, not even Chinese food. I had never heard of bagels or delis. Fortunately, my mother was a good cook and she maximized the potential of traditional foods from northern New England. She baked. We had very little packaged or prepared foods. We occasionally had pancakes made from buckwheat – a flour I would encounter years later. Nonetheless, I really knew next to nothing about food and ethnic cuisine.
So, when I arrived in New York City in 1969, it was nothing less than incredible, thrust in the midst of one of the most diverse cities in the world with all the representative cuisines. Here, I learned virtually everything I would ever know about food. It has been an extraordinary culinary adventure and, like for many New Yorkers, eating out is one of my primary activities.

Shortly after moving here, I became a vegetarian. Natural foods had not yet permeated the American landscape, so living in the Village was particularly special. Outside the city, it was virtually impossible to find restaurants catering to the vegetarian. But here, one could find a plethora of health food stores and restaurants. One of those was East West on 9th Street. East West was a cut above the others, somewhat more expensive, so I did not eat there as frequently as I would have liked.
It was at East West that I first became acquainted with two of my favorite food items, both in one dish – pesto and Soba noodles. Since that time, most of my Soba noodle experience has been in home cooking in soup. Most Japanese restaurants favor noodle dishes and soups with ramen and udon. But I love the coarser, earthier texture and flavor of Soba, which is made from buckwheat flour. Until recently, Soba noodles were much more difficult to make and more expensive. Now they are made by machine and can be more easily found in markets.

I recently had a hankering for Soba noodles, and rather than hope to find a place serving them by sheer happenstance, I decided to become more proactive. Perhaps surprising, but there are a handful of restaurants in New York specializing in Soba – one is soba-ya Japanese Noodle Restaurant at 229 East 9th Street. I had my first meal there Sunday night.
It was immediately apparent that this was a serious establishment, evidenced by the large Japanese clientele and the woodsy ambiance with a decor featuring traditional elements. It was a warm and cozy place on a cold winter night for a hot bowl of soup. With Soba :)

2 Responses to Soba

  1. Had kamo soba for supper myself last night. At Ki Sushi on Smith Street in Brooklyn. Not vegetarian, though. Has a nice helping of roasted duck breast in it, along with the vegetables and noodles.
    One of my favorites. Going to have the leftovers a little later. They serve a humongous portion. Mmmmmm…
    Will have to give “soba ya” a try. Is it a vegetarian restaurant only?

  2. Mary P. – my dish was vegetarian, but they do serve plenty of meat and fish.


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