そば Soba noodles

Recorded by Carolyn Stevens

Soba (buckwheat) noodles are a popular dish in Japan. Served either hot or cold, soba noodles are made from buckwheat and are typically eaten with a broth. Sometimes they are served with pickles (tsukemono). Part of the enjoyment of eating soba noodles (indeed, any noodles in Japan) is sensory: feeling the noodles slip through your pursed lips, the slight spatter of broth on your lips, and the crunch of the pickles in your mouth. Smelling the subtle aroma of the broth, enjoying the simple flavours of the noodles, the soba sauces and the pickles is part of any season, but we found this meal particularly suited to hot weather as the noodles pictured below are served cold. The noodles taste, smell and look great, but there is an important aural component as well.

A typical serving of cold soba noodles with wasabi. This image lacks pickles, but does include sauce and broth

It comes as quite a shock to (some) tourists to Japan that whenever eating noodles, one is expected to slurp as loudly as possible whilst eating. This sonic practice is designed to show the host that you are enjoying your meal. Therefore, in public as well as in private homes, the smacking of lips and sighs of enjoyment are also common sonic occurrences while eating soba! The enjoyment of eating noodles in Japan - whether it be soba or ramen (a type of noodle whose origin can be traced to China) is a fully sensory experience.

In the following recording, you can hear Professor Hosokawa, one of the members of our research team, enjoying soba noodles in a small shop in downtown Kyoto. Note how you can hear the crunch of pickles as well as the slurping of the noodles. Note also the background music and the sounds of the chef washing some dishes in the background. The shop is a narrow one, and all functions of the restaurant take place in close proximity to each other. The customers sit at a long counter while the chef cooks, serves, and clears away. He may also engage regular customers in pleasant chit chat; this is a pleasure associated with jouren, or regular customers of the establishment.

To all who are familiar with Japanese cuisine, I am sure your belly will start to grumble when you hear this recording- another sonic practice related to food which we could consider global!

Recordings: Carolyn Stevens

Text: Thomas Baudinette and Carolyn Stevens

Photos: Thomas Baudinette, via instagram

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