Nagano is the land of soba, a.k.a. buckwheat noodles, so when you come to Matsumoto, you’ll find shops everywhere around the city. Assuming it’s not fast food-style soba, most of the restaurants serve super fresh, made-this-morning noodles that have a divine texture and subtle, delicate taste. Don’t pass up the chance to eat at least one basket of cold soba and/or one bowl of hot soba while you’re here!
Or, even better yet, why not learn to make it yourself? Takagi, a souvenir shop and restaurant with a over 130 years of history, offers you the chance to do just that, and as Takagi’s soba master puts it, «Nothing tastes better than soba noodles you made with your very own hands.»
Before I go into details on how you can do this yourself, I’ll tell you about my own experience at Takagi’s workshop. I just got to participate in a lesson this past Friday with a home stay student from Australia.
First off, you actually get taught by Takagi’s experienced soba master, who can speak English and has by no doubt been hand-making soba noodles every single day for years. If you’ve ever watched the movie Kill Bill (Vol. 1), he sort of reminded me of the Hattori Hanzo character who taught Uma Thurman’s character how to fight with the samurai sword. Very cool.
We started right from the raw ingredients: buckwheat flour, a little bit of wheat flour, and water. That’s it! The first step was to gradually rub together the flours with the proper amount of water (which apparently varies by season/weather) until it starts to clump together. Then, the dough can be kneaded into a ball. «Knead approximately 120 times,» said the soba master (I’m sure he doesn’t need to actually count, as he could tell when the dough was ready by poking it).
After that, we pressed the dough out into a flat, round shape and started rolling it out with a long rolling pin made for noodles. This was a little bit tricky because you don’t just roll it back and forth as you do when rolling out pie dough or cookie dough; instead you have to form your hands into «cat paws» (as the soba master called it), and quickly move your hands in a circular back-and-forth motion which seems to help evenly distribute the weight of the rolling pin over the dough and lets you work much more quickly. This should be done without tearing holes into the dough and keeping the thickness even. Easier said than done for a beginner!
Once the noodles were thin enough, the dough gets folded and cut with a nifty soba-cutting knife and wooden cutting guide that helps you keep the noodles straight and thin. The goal is to cut the noodles very, very thin—again, easier said than done for beginners, but it’s all a matter of practice! Our noodles turned out a little thick here and there, but they’re still going to taste delicious, I’m sure!
And finished! You can choose to eat the noodles write at Takagi’s restaurant or, if you live in Japan or have a kitchen at your place of accommodation, you can take the noodles home and cook them later (you get a portion of the dipping soup to go with it).
Of course, the best part is that now you’ll actually have the basic knowledge to practice and make soba noodles yourself once you get back home! Great way to impress friends with a special dinner, if I say so myself 😉
To book your lesson at Takagi, call them or just talk someone in the shop. It’s safer to book a few days in advance, but it might be worth a try to ask directly at the shop if you didn’t have time to make a reservation.
- Lesson start times: 10:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., or 5:30 p.m.
- Lesson time: 1 hour, or 2 hours if you’re eating there
- Price: ¥3,000 per person (make one batch, which will feed 3 people)
- Min. participants: 2 people (according to the website you could do it with just one person, but it will cost you the whole ¥6,000)
- Phone: 0263-33-1039
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Address: 3-5-12 Ote, Matsumoto, Nagano (map) — 15 min. from the Matsumoto Sta. and less than 5 min. from the castle.