Ramen noodles are often thought of as soup noodles in the West, but you can, of course, have them without the broth as well. In Japan, these soupless noodles come in many guises depending on the region, such as mazemen, tenukisoba and siruanashi, to name a few. Here we’ll show you how to make abura soba.
What is abura soba?
Abura is Japanese for 'oil' and soba is a type of Japanese noodle made from buckwheat. Abura soba literally just means buckwheat noodles served with oil (instead of broth). And this is where it gets a little confusing: abura soba usually isn’t made with soba noodles at all. We’ll get into the reasons why – and what noodles you should use – a little later.
Abura soba originated in Tokyo’s Kitatatama district in the 1950s and is often served in a bowl lined with a mixture of soy sauce, pork grease and other ingredients, but vegetarian and vegan variants are also common. Either way, it’s easy to make and very versatile. Traditionally, it’s served with a variety of toppings and there are no limits to what you can use, regardless of your dietary requirements.
The type of noodles to use for abura soba
Abura soba is generally made with ramen noodles, which are made from wheat, and not, as the name suggests, soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat. That’s because ramen is actually a fairly modern Japanese word for a Chinese-style noodle. These noodles were originally called chuka soba (Japanese for 'thin Chinese noodles').
So, despite the name, you should actually use common ramen noodles or one of the many similar varieties of Chinese wheat noodles. That said, soba noodles are delicious too, so why not? (Just make sure to read the cooking instructions on the packet as they’re a lot easier to overcook.) You can even use udon if you prefer your noodles nice and beefy.
Suggested toppings for abura soba
Abura soba is traditionally served topped with chashu pork slices, menma bamboo shoots, shredded nori, spring onions, minced garlic, and sometimes a boiled egg or raw or preserved egg yolk. It generally also comes with chilli oil and rice vinegar condiments at standard.
We’d advise you top your abura soba with at least one protein and then complement them with various vegetables of different textures. Try some of these to get started:
Protein topping suggestions:
Chashu pork slices
Fried tofu puffs, nuggets or sheets (aburaage)
Vegetable topping suggestions:
Tempura or tempura scraps (age dama)
Shiitake, wood ear and/or enoki mushrooms
Fermented bamboo shoots
Pickled lotus root
Abura soba recipe
Ingredients for 2 servings:
2 portions Chinese noodles
4 tsp / 20g chicken fat (or sesame oil for vegan)
2 tbsp / 30g oyster sauce (or mushroom sauce for vegan)
1 ½ tsp / 5g dashi (miso) stock powder
2 tbsp / 30ml soy sauce (or tamari for gluten free)
1 tsp / 5g sugar
1 tbsp / 15ml rice vinegar
2 tsp / 10g doubanjiang (fermented chili bean paste)
And don’t forget your choice of toppings (see the list above).
Prepare your toppings in advance.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together all the sauce ingredients (everything listed above except the noodles).
Bring a pot of water to boil over a high heat. Add the noodles and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for as long as the packet tells you (typically about 3 minutes for regular ramen noodles).
Drain the noodles well and transfer them to the mixing bowl. Toss the noodles together with the sauce until they’re well coated.
Divide the coated noodles between two bowls and serve with your choice of toppings. Dress with chilli oil if desired.
We hope you enjoy abura soba and hopefully you’ll be able to visit Japan soon to try it in its most authentic form. On that note, if you want to know what it’s like to try abura soba for the first time in the Japanese capital, check out this great article on Tokyo’s abura soba restaurants by Matthew Amster-Burton in The Takeout.
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