Japan's Centuries-Old Tradition Of Making Soba Noodles : The Salt In the remote mountains of the Japanese island of Shikoku, an old woman makes soba noodles by hand from locally grown buckwheat. It's ancient technique that is adapting to modern times.
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Japan's Centuries-Old Tradition Of Making Soba Noodles

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Japan's Centuries-Old Tradition Of Making Soba Noodles

Japan's Centuries-Old Tradition Of Making Soba Noodles

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And one more word from overseas - this from Japan, where soba noodles are a staple on the dinner table. They're made from buckwheat, and in the mountains of the island of Shikoku, not much grows except for buckwheat. So people there have had centuries to refine their soba technique. NPR's Ina Jaffe recently met a woman in a little Shikoku village who's been making soba the old-fashioned way for more than four decades, and she sent us this audio postcard.

REIKO TSUZUKI: (Singing in foreign language).

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: There's a traditional song that women sing while grinding the buckwheat flour to make soba.

TSUZUKI: (Singing in foreign language).

JAFFE: It says don't be mean to your daughter-in-law, the one who does the tedious work of grinding the flour because some day your daughter will marry and become a daughter-in-law herself.

TSUZUKI: (Singing in foreign language).

JAFFE: The singer is 70-year-old Reiko Tsuzuki. She's serenading about a dozen lunchtime guests in her tiny restaurant in the remote Iya Valley. She's got a case full of trophies for her singing, but it's her soba that leads people to seek her out here.

Tsuzuki's kitchen is next door to the restaurant. It's a light, airy space where she also gives classes.

TSUZUKI: (Foreign language spoken).

JAFFE: She says she doesn't want soba-making or other Iya Valley traditions to be lost or forgotten.

So she kneels to demonstrate the stone grinder. She's a tiny woman, but she can crank the heavy grinding stone with one hand while brushing in buckwheat kernels with the other. There's so much effort for so little flour. These days, Tsuzuki uses mostly machine-ground flour. Still, she always includes at least some of the hand-ground stuff. She says it just tastes better. The buckwheat flour goes into a bowl. She adds some water, and now you know the recipe for soba. There is nothing else in it, at least not the way Tsuzuki makes it.

She rolls out the dough 'til it's paper thin, gently folds it, then takes a knife and slices it into delicate strands. She used to make thicker noodles, she says, but it's not the fashion anymore.

TSUZUKI: (Singing in foreign language).

JAFFE: So you can change with the times and still keep the old traditions alive, just like she's changed the end of this traditional song to invite her guests to return to the Iya Valley and enjoy handmade soba again.

TSUZUKI: (Singing in foreign language).

(APPLAUSE)

JAFFE: Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

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