Knowing Your Noodles – Okinawa Soba & Soki Soba
The argument whether ramen is a Japanese or a Chinese cuisine is still an on-going debate that I often find myself to be a part of. I sport the side that ramen is very much a Japanese food because you cannot find many of the staple broths such as miso and tonkotsu when you are eating Chinese noodles.
With that said, I always find Okinawa soba to be in an interesting spot. Okinawa is officially a part of Japan, yet Okinawa soba both in the broth and the noodles is nothing like Japanese ramen and instead is closer to Chinese noodles. It feels slightly awkward to introduce it as a Japanese cuisine.
However, Okinawa soba is definitely a hot bowl of goodness you do not want to miss for any noodle-lover reading this.
Since noodles themselves typically do not bring in much flavour, the soup becomes the center of the discussion. The soup of Okinawa soba is mainly based on the flavour of pork and katsuo dashi. The results is a flavourful yet clear broth that also has a thin layer of grease from the pork. Comparing it to Japanese ramen, Okinawa soba’s soup certainly is on the lighter side of the scale.
In any bowl of Okinawa soba, you would find a noodle that is quite different too. They are often flattened instead of round, and the noodles are also slightly curly instead of straight. Regardless of the firmness, these thick noodles are also more chewy. Due to their unique shape and texture, taking a big slurp into your mouth will take your some time to chew through, and personally I find the noodles more chaotic in a fun way than the Japanese ramen.
Topping-wise, we are looking at a couple of real standouts from Okinawa cuisines. Instead of the typical roasted pork cha-siu, Okinawa soba uses slices of the sanmainiku pork belly. Sanmainiku is like kakunin or the Chinese Dongpo pork, which blocks of pork belly are cooked in a sauce over a long period of time so it becomes very soft and flavoured. The name sanmainiku literally translates to 3 layered pork, referencing the clearly visible different layers within each slice served. It is a real treat, and having it as a part of a bowl of noodles is excellent.
Soki pork in the soki soba, on the other hand, is on a completely different league. Soki is the pork ribs in Okinawan cooking that is cooked thoroughly until it is extremely tender. Many shops serve the soki pork attached to the bones, but the meat comes right off with little to no effort, and this pork is fantastically satisfying to enjoy. Personally, I always op for soki over Okinawa soba any chance I get, and I wish this soft pork rib can be commonly found in other parts of Japan too.
Whichever becomes your first bowl of noodles in Okinawa, you will get to enjoy a flavorful and satisfying meal that is hard to find on the main islands. Prepare for a new Japanese noodles experience!