On our second Monday in Sapporo, we were back in classes. My language class had gone from 2 to 3 students. Yeah! And there was yet another cultural activity that afternoon. We were going to be making soba. Soba is a type of Japanese thin noodle made from buckwheat. Buckwheat is primarily harvested in Hokkaido. So there’s no fresher soba than in Hokkaido.
However, first things first. We were hungry. So after class and before the cultural activity, we had to grab lunch on our own. A few of us from the school were pretty hungry and had a hankering for ramen, the other very famous Japanese noodle (although if you ask the Japanese, ramen is a Chinese noodle).
About 6 of us rushed over to the ESTA Department Store connected to Sapporo Station. Our school is only about two blocks south of Sapporo Station. So it’s a quick jaunt from school to ESTA. I think it took us longer to get up to the 10th floor’s Sapporo Ramen Republic than it did for us to walk from the school to ESTA.
We ducked into Baikouken Ramen. It had space and we were in a bit of rush. We all had to get our food and run back to the school by 1:45pm. My wife and I saw that there was cheese gyoza on the menu. We just needed to try that! I also ordered a rich black miso ramen. The bowls were way larger than we expected. So with giants bowls of hot ramen and the plate of gyoza, there was a lot of food for us to finish. It was all so good, though. All my schoolmates and I were so full after, but we all gave 2 thumbs up for the meal. We would be back here for ramen for sure.
We ran back to the school all full. We could have rolled back with our tummies full of ramen. We made it just on time. They were doing a roll call as we arrived. We would be heading out for our soba making session. We had no idea where the place was. So we are always following our school activity coordinator wherever he goes. Coordinator-san took us to Odori Subway Station to take the Tozai Line our to destination.
He took us to Shiroishi (白石) Station and we had to walk over to the Shiroishi Ward Office. Ward offices in Sapporo seem to function not only as municipal government administration, but also as local community centres. Our soba making lesson was in the basement of the Shiroishi Ward Office.
It was a large room with lots of large flat tables to accommodate soba making. The soba master picked the two tallest guys in our class to be at the front to demonstrate the soba making. First of all, we had to mix the buckwheat flour with water in giant mixing bowls. We were required to do all this with our bare hands. I had a lot of doughy stuff stuck to my fingers and nails after mixing. Then when the dough was mostly set, we placed it on the big flat tables. We flattened the dough with giant rolling pins until the dough was evenly flat and square in shape. With help from our own soba sensei, we were able to set the dough up on the table and make it ready for cutting into noodles. We all got to try our hands at cutting the soba. There was a special soba cutting knife along with a specific technique that the senseis taught us. So we actually got to cut our own soba. The knife felt really solid in the hand and cut the dough almost effortlessly.
After most of us had finished our soba and were seated, the soba master got up and talked a bit. Poor Coordinator-san had to translate for most of us whose Japanese was not so good. It was tough for him because he couldn’t think of what the English equivalent was much of the time. Even the soba senseis started to tease him.
Then the not-so-unexpected happened. We got to sample our own handiwork. Oh boy. Those of us who went for ramen at lunch were looking at each other and all feeling very full. We were able to have small, small bowls of the soba, but the senseis, being gracious hosts, kept giving us more soba to eat. My stomach was bursting at the seams with noodles.
Any of the soba that we couldn’t finish, we were taking home with us. We packed little clear, plastic boxes of the stuff to take with us. The soba master told us to eat it soon because there were no preservatives in these noodles. He recommended that we finish it all by tonight, if possible.
Well, I wasn’t about to have more noodles for dinner that night. It was a shame we didn’t have the soba that evening because the soba master wasn’t kidding. We tried to have the soba the next day and the noodles didn’t hold their form nor taste as good after cooking. Lesson learned the hard way about fresh soba. All in all, it was a very fun experience and a Noodle Monday that I won’t be forgetting any time soon. Let me just undo my belt for a moment…
Updated Sept 21, 2014:
My friend Kacy got her video uploaded on YouTube about our soba making day. It’ll give you a good idea of how we had to make the soba that day.