LITTLE BIG SECRETS
A secretive 11- seater soba place opens up a little
Soba is gluten-free. Made from buckwheat flour, these spaghetti-like strings have less calories and a higher fiber content than traditional pasta. It is also a good source of protein and helps lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. This noodle can be served hot or cold with a dipping sauce, and its stock is made from dried fish sans oil—a significant difference from the rich and oily broth used in ramen.
But where to get this healthy Japanese noodle soup in Cebu, you ask? In a nondescript corner in Mandaue, a compact 11-seater restaurant serves freshly made soba enough for 11 diners every meal. Owned by chef Hiroyuki Sakata, who trained in Japan two years ago to learn how to prepare his favorite meal, Soba Kamakura opened in February to introduce and share this uniquely Japanese dining experience.
I sit on the five-seater bar, where I have a full view of Sakata and his assistants carrying out the generations-old art of soba-making. Carrying a wide, wooden bowl, Sakata walks out of the back kitchen and into the open kitchen. He is the only one who knows the proper steps to make soba; everyone else in the kitchen is there to assist him.
He fills the bowl with buckwheat flour and adds water, then tells us we can start taking pictures at this point. He kneads the flour with tenderness and force, and spins the bowl at a consistent speed. Many of our questions about his techniques are answered with “It’s a secret.” At one point, as Sakata reaches for his water spritzer, he asks the photographer to cease shooting; this part of the process is also a secret. He continues to explain and emphasize, though, the health benefits of soba as the color of the flour transforms from white to brown.
Sakata shares that he has direct contact with a farmer in Hokkaido, Japan who processes buckwheat flour through round stone milling at 600 grams per hour. On the menu, it is mentioned that the restaurant uses only pesticide- free buckwheat flour, stressing the invaluable work involved in every stage of its processing, from farmer to chef.
Soba Kamakura offers five kinds of soba: Artisan ( plain), Unagi ( with grilled eel), Niku ( with your choice of thin- sliced U. S. beef or pork), Ebi ( with shrimp tempura), and Tanuki ( with tempura bits). All can be ordered ala carte or as a set, with four additional appetizers and Japanese sweets.
Make sure to secure a reservation before coming in since there is limited seating. When asked if Sakata has plans to expand and open a bigger restaurant, he answers no. He is the sole person who can make the soba, as he is yet to find an apprentice interested and worthy enough to learn the tradition.
You can regularly find instant cup soba noodles in your neighborhood Japanese grocery stores. They could make you suspect their claims for being a healthy snack, though, given that not all ready-to-eat packs have 100 percent buckwheat. As some are made with regular or refined flour, it’s best to always check the label before purchasing. Soba Kamakura. E.C. Bldg., Greenhills Rd., Casuntingan, Mandaue City. (032) 417-2481. 0916-719-2512. 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
FRESHLY MADE SOBA
HIROYUKI SAKATA MAKES FRESH SOBA NOODLES FROM BUCKWHEAT FLOUR (OPPOSITE PAGE). CUCUMBERS WITH UNAGI (BELOW) AND SHIMEJI MUSHROOMS IN SOBA BROTH (EXTREME BELOW).