Rooted in Japanese food culture, styles of noodles include udon, ramen, somen, pasta, and soba. Cultural ties to Japanese customs are evident in hikkoshi soba (sent as a greeting to new neighbors) and toshikoshi soba (eaten on New Year’s Eve to bring longevity and prosperity).
MD Chowdhury from Bangladesh came to Japan in 1992 to study Japanese and was fascinated by the first soba he ate. He studied Japanese cooking at a Japanese restaurant, and then started his apprenticeship to become a soba chef. After working under several soba masters to find his own taste, he opened his own shop in 2002.
“When I ate soba for the first time, I was impressed by its simplicity and savored its delicacy. Soba is also healthy because it is rich in rutin that works to thin the blood. I like that part of soba as well,” he says.
The main ingredients of soba are buckwheat flour and water, and making soba is also simple. Its taste is determined by the techniques of soba chefs. MD Chowdhury first visited mills and bought flour ground by stone mills, and then started grinding with his own stone mill to make ideal flour. He uses only domestic buckwheat from terraced fields for its high sugar content.
His work routine begins with grinding soba flour from midnight to 3 a.m. and soba noodle making from 6 a.m. He uses a fine sifter before starting to make dough.
He spares nothing for a fine soba. In the crucial part called mizumawashi, he adds water to flour little by little to make dough, relying on his fingertips to blend rather than knead.
“Soba is delicate. Even considering season, temperature, and humidity, flavor will not come out the same. So every morning I concentrate before starting. I try to finish soba making before my family wakes. My life centers on soba.”
The three principles of tasty soba are freshly ground, freshly made, and freshly boiled. MD Chowdhury is true to his training, and also makes soba dipping sauce with care. He uses bonito, mackerel, and auxis flakes for soup stock and blends in dried kelp stock to enhance the fresh soba flavor.
“If I’m not satisfied with soba I made, I throw it away. It’s not a thing I can go back and start over. It’s serious every time.”
Because his soba is carefully made, MD Chowdhury wants customers to try mori-soba before anything else because it brings out the true savor of soba. He limits use of wasabi and scallion relish as they diminish the flavor of soba. The locals appreciate his deep understanding of Japanese food culture and his sincere attitude toward soba.
“Making delicious soba can be exhausting — 40 servings per day is all that I can manage. If I get exhausted, I cannot make good soba. So I don’t push myself over the limit. It is my pleasure to serve people of Zushi for a long time to come.”
A specialized knife for soba slicing must be long and fairly heavy. This is a custom-made product comprised of a knife and a sliding board so soba can be sliced thin consistently.
In soba making, dough is spread on a board with a rolling pin and then wrapped around the pin to be rolled further. Pin thickness and length vary, and two to three pins are used.
The stone mill grinds buckwheat flour. “It is important that the mill rotates at a constant speed,” says MD Chowdhury. How fine the flour needs to be is up to his intuition and expertise.