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NPR visited a soba house on the Japanese island of Shikoku.
Despite the burgeoning udon trend Stateside—see TsuruTonTan, the artisanal chubby noodle chain making its American debut today in the former Union Square Cafe space—thin is still in, at least if you ask the residents of Shikoku, an island in southern Japan, where buckwheat is the most prolific local crop and soba the region's calling card.
In an NPR profile this weekend, Reiko Tsuzuki, 70, who has been making soba using traditional methods for more than 40 years, explained the process—involving an old-fashioned stone grinder and plenty of detailed handiwork. The noodles themselves are minimalist in their construction: "The buckwheat flour goes into a bowl," says reporter Ina Jaffe. "Then she adds some water. And that's it, the entire recipe for soba, at least the way Tsuzuki makes it." The dough is subsequently kneaded, rolled out, and hand cut into thin strips.
If you're interested in learning how to make soba by hand, you, too, can take a class from Tsuzuki herself as part of tour groups that visit the region. If you're visiting Tokyo and don't have time to travel south, English language soba-making classes at the Tsukiji Academy come in different levels of intensity—the most hardcore buckwheat rollers among you can sign up for a 10-day pro course which includes mastering gluten-free soba, 10 different noodle recipes, use of specialized soba equipment (specialized soba knives!), and soba arrangements (with meats and stuff).
Once you've mastered soba-making, we have some recipes for you: For dining outdoors in the late summer, consider Soba Noodles With Grilled Shrimp and Cilantro. Consider using your August tomato haul in this bright and tangy Soba Noodles With Miso-Roasted Tomatoes. Clean out your fridge with Susan Feniger's Kitchen Sink Soba Noodles recipe. Or you can always stick to something more traditional with a soul-nourishing bowl of Soba Noodles With Dashi, Poached Egg, and Scallions.