Recently I was in a vast underground labyrinth of a Singapore shopping mall, waiting to meet a friend at a coffee shop and came upon this lesson in soba (noodle) making. There is a Japanese chain restaurant in which the all the restaurant’s soba noodles are either made behind glass in view of passers by or at least some of them are made in public view. A young soba maker was being instructed by the master, or anyway, someone a bit older and wiser to soba. You can see the student’s progress in the little videos. He’s a fast learner, I take it. although the difference in his actions is a bit subtle (It’s Japanese, after all).
Here’s the set up since you can’t see everything from where I could shoot. Step 1: You roll out dough made of buckwheat flour and fold it into a neat square (I’m sure in a ritual way) with a light flour dusting between the layers. The square is set on floured stone slab and on top of that is a square piece of wood, exactly the size of your soba-square. You press down on the wood in a carefully prescribed way, as you see, slightly moving the square but not the soba dough it to your left as you cut precisely even, parallel slices through the dough. Apparently there’s a lot to do with hips, shoulders, wrists. Then the soba noodles are trimmed and lightly tossed to separate them. I guess the finished noodles go in the box with the parchment (?) paper in the foreground but I had to leave to meet my friend.
So in the first pass, the Beginner, the student is not happy, although he looked pretty skilled to me. You don’t see the master’s face here but trust me, not happy. Then the Master commenced moving the student’s body around, explaining what he was doing wrong (apparently everything). It went on for awhile and I only got a bit of it. Finally, Finding the Way, voila’ (or however that is in Japanese), everybody was happy.
I bet after a week or so of making soba noodles 8 hours a day, the apprentice will be an expert, too!