A festival and street food favorite, some of my best memories in Japan are the hot summer festival (matsuri) nights spent at my local temple in Shin Koenji. Lanterns lit and glowing, swarms of neighborhood locals in yukata (unlined summer kimono) and me shoveling Yakisoba-freshly made at one of the many food stalls at the temple-into my mouth while the whole crowd dances in unison to taiko-heavy music. It’s proper celebratory party food through and through. Yakisoba is also one of those Japanese dishes which, despite being a national culinary treasure, contains an interesting combination of “non-Japanese ingredients”. Basically a simple stir fry of noodles and vegetables, the sauce is made up primarily of Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, which makes one wonder as to its historical origins or inspiration. Nonetheless, the Japanese are masters at borrowing from different cultures to create something new and uniquely Japanese. Yakisoba is no exception.
Yakisoba is traditionally eaten on its own as a meal but has also been used in a Kansai-style version of Okonomiyaki (my fav) and even in a sandwich called Yakisoba Pan, literally Yakisoba Bread.
Yakisoba is a very easy dish to make and is also perfect for large groups, parties or even potlucks as it doesn’t need to be piping hot. Just double, triple or quadruple the portions. My version is vegetarian with ribbons of egg omelette but can easily be made with meat if that’s your thing.
2-3 bundles of Soba noodles, Dried Japanese noodles typically come packed in bundles about 1inch thick. You could also use Udon, Ramen, Somen or even Spaghetti.
5 leaves Cabbage, roughly chopped.
1 Carrot, julienned
1/4 Large Onion, cut into approx 1/2in wedges.
2 Green Onions, cut into 2in lengths
Salt & Pepper to taste
Furikake or Katsuobushi for garnish
Note: all these vegetable proportions are completely my preference. If you prefer you could have it more noodle and veg heavy.
makes 4 servings
1/4c Worcestershire sauce
1/4c Oyster or Mushroom Sauce or Sweet Soy Sauce (thick)
1T Soy Sauce
First make the omelette if you’re not doing meat. Whisk 3 eggs in a bowl with salt and pepper to taste. Heat about 2T oil up in a wide pan on medium high and just before it begins to smoke, pour the egg in a circular motion from the outside in, swirling the pan to keep it from sticking to the bottom. If you’re not confident with this, use a nonstick pan. Lower the heat slightly and allow it to cook until just set, then turn of the heat and cover to steam. After a couple of minutes it should be fully set. Transfer it carefully to a plate to cool, making sure it stays flat like a sheet.
Next get your noodles cooking according to the packet instructions. About 5 minutes in boiling water brought down to a simmer. While they are cooking, make your sauce so it’s done. The measurements given here are for 4 servings so you and your guests can customize the richness that suits your individual tastes. Combine all the sauce ingredients, mix well and set aside.
When the noodles are cooked, drain them and then plunge them into cold water and let them cool there while you chop your veggies. Your omelette should also be cooled by now. Cut the round sheet of egg in half, then into thin strips or ribbons.
Heat some oil in a large wok or wide frying pan on medium high. Make sure the pan is wide, you’ll need room to toss the noodles and fold in the sauce. Add the onions and carrots and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the cabbage and green onions, cooking until the cabbage just starts to wilt.
Turn down the heat and add the drained noodles. Using tongs, a fork and spoon or chopsticks, carefully fold in and toss the ingredients together to mix them evenly until heated through. Next add about 1/4 of the sauce and toss again in the same manner, making sure you coat all the ingredients.
Transfer to individual serving plates or bowls. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the sauce over each portion, then decant the rest of the sauce to a small bottle or gravy dish so you can add more to taste. Sprinkle a bit of furikake or katsuobushi on top and enjoy!