One of the first things I did after booking my tickets to Japan last year was to look for cooking classes or demonstrations to attend. I was hungry (!) to learn more about Japanese cuisine and I wanted to learn how to make it at home. As it turns out, the fantastic food I tasted in Japan intimidated me more than it encouraged me to make it at home. I got caught in a whirlwind of subtle flavors, incredibly balanced tastes and intricate preparations – and I didn’t even eat at haute-cuisine restaurants. You see, the Japanese people are meticulous at everything they do, from designing products to looking after their surroundings to serving food on the plate. In Japan, I realized exactly how much I still had to learn about Japanese cuisine. Most chefs, from the sushi to the noodle master, spend decades learning their craft. Who was I to think I’d turn out perfect homemade ramen noodles after one trip to Japan? (Yes, now I realize how naive my assumptions were.)
We did attend one cooking class in Japan, and it was fantastic in a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime kind of way. We visited a soba noodle master who lived close to the Tsukiji Market, and had a private class with him. His kitchen and studio were so tiny we thought he would walk us somewhere else for the class, but no. We crammed into the kitchen and he showed us how to make a dashi broth, how to clean shelled oysters using grated daikon, and he made us taste fresh wasabi. Then we moved into the other tiny room of the apartment (a miracle of organization), and he showed us how to make soba noodles. Seeing him move and knead and roll and cut the dough was like watching a professional dancer perform right in front of us. Each and every one of his motions was calm, planned and efficient. It was fascinating and strangely soothing.
The soba master gave me buckwheat flour, the very finely ground kind that’s right for soda noodle making, but I came back and never made my own soba noodles at home. I know it can be done and one day I’ll tackle the challenge, but it feels like I’m not ready yet. The good news is that I have finally started cooking Japanese food at home! I’ve had a breakthrough and I’ll tell you more about it very soon.
In the meantime, to get an idea of what it’s like to see a master making noodles, watch the following video by The Perennial Plate. The man Daniel and Mirra met made udon instead of soba noodles, but his dedication is just as arresting and moving as that of the teacher I met in Tokyo. I think you’ll never see your soup’s noodles the same way again.
“Weren’t you happy after eating those Udon noodles today? (…) If happiness spreads from what I am doing, I am happy.”
– Shimizu San, farmer and udon noodle master