Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bringing the demanding skill of making soba noodles to the capital




Bringing the demanding skill of making soba noodles to the capital

The finished product: a plate of soba noodles crafted by chef Nobuhiko Kado.
The finished product: a plate of soba noodles crafted by chef Nobuhiko Kado. Athena Zelandonii

Bringing the demanding skill of making soba noodles to the capital

Inside a glass-paned room, buckwheat and wheat flour are sifted into a large lacquered kibachi bowl, and Nobuhiko Kado, known as Nobu, who trained seven years to hand-make soba noodles, begins the laborious process of kneading the dough. Within 10 minutes, he has rolled a neat ball of dough, laid it out on a wood board, and flattened it into a thin square sheet using a set of rolling pins.

Nobu flours the dough as he folds it over several times before unsheathing a special cleaver which, paired with a rectangular guide in one hand, he uses to cut and trim the dough into bunches of noodles. They are then laid on a tray to be served up that evening as either hot kake or cold zaru soba.

Named after the central ward of Tokyo where the emperor resides, Chiyoda – Nobu’s restaurant – will be “the first handmade soba and udon place in Cambodia” when it formally opens in September, says supervisor Isato Yoshino.

“We have been testing many different buckwheat [flours] to find the best one,” he says, adding that the import of flour from Japan, Myanmar and Mongolia did not go unnoticed.

“We are bringing in all these white powders, so airport customs was very suspicious,” Yoshino chuckles.

The challenges went further than that: Cambodia’s humidity and high temperatures mean that making a long soba noodle in the tradition of Tokyo and northeastern Japan was far from trivial.

“The ratio of the buckwheat flour to the wheat flour is very important,” he says.

Chef Nobu at work.
Chef Nobu at work. Athena Zelandonii

In Cambodia, too much buckwheat will cause the soba noodle to fall apart. Udon noodles, by comparison, are made only of wheat and are much thicker. That means udon noodles “are not so sensitive – that is a difference. Udon can last five days after it is made; soba, not
even one day,” Yoshino says.

“Anything not sold by 10pm, we dump,” he adds.

For this reason, Nobu works in a climate-controlled room but with glass panes that allow patrons to watch his handicraft. Being in Phnom Penh has an advantage: a serving of handmade soba at Chiyoda costs $5, roughly half the price in Tokyo, but with no sacrifice in quality.

Yoshino crowd-tested the soba on Japanese patrons who filled out questionnaires during the five-week soft opening, ensuring that – beyond the markedly Japanese interior, complete with ’90s Japanese rock music – the restaurant offers an authentic soba experience.

“I want the customer to feel like they are in Japan,” he says. Even the photographs on the wall, works by Yoshino’s father Junji – a former photojournalist for the weekly financial magazine Toyo Keizai – reflect what season it is back home.

Chiyoda’s unassuming exterior disguises the excellence within.
Chiyoda’s unassuming exterior disguises the excellence within. Athena Zelandonii

But soba is more than just a buckwheat noodle. Boasting a 500-year history, the noodle is meant to be eaten with just its broth, wasabi and green onions, and while Yoshino has meat add-ons such as shrimp tempura on the menu to satisfy customers, “in reality, in Japanese [tradition], we prefer simplicity,” he says.

As such, properly eating cold zaru soba requires a bit of traditional know-how. Luckily, though, a step-by-step illustration on the back of the English-language menu teaches you how to garnish and dip your noodles before sucking them up.

“You can slurp,” he says. “It happens, and in Japan it is not rude to make a noise [while eating].”

Chiyoda is located on #22 Street 334, and is open from 11:30am to 2:30pm and 5:30p to 10pm, seven days a week. Tel: 011 962 665.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hungarian exposes 90 to Covid in Siem Reap

    The Ministry of Health has discovered 90 people who have been exposed directly or indirectly to a Hungarian man infected with Covid-19. They all are required to quarantine at home and the hospital. The ministry is searching for other affected people. Among the 90, one is the

  • PM warns of ‘new Cold War’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said the possibility of a so-called new Cold War has become a significant concern and that all countries have to reject outright, any attempt to allow history to tragically repeat itself. He made the remarks in a speech during 75th Session

  • PM: West unfair to Cambodia

    Prime Minister Hun Sen released a message celebrating the International Day of Peace on Monday, saying that some major powers and western countries had been systemically cooperating to put political pressure on Cambodia as they did in the 1970s and 1980s. Hun Sen said pressuring

  • ‘Bad news is an investor’s best friend’ – unlocking investment potential in Cambodia

    It is time to shop. Economic woes provide good pickings for investors if they know where to look The poem If, written by English Nobel laureate poet and novelist Rudyard Kipling for his son circa 1895, is widely perceived as fatherly advice for John who would

  • PM requests Russia’s Covid vaccine

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has requested that Russia provide Cambodia with its Covid-19 vaccine after the former announced it planned on mass vaccinating its population next month. The request came on Thursday through the prime minister’s Facebook page as he met with Anatoly Borovik,

  • Cambodia, CRF win rice battle in EU Court

    The European General Court has rejected the European Commission’s (EC) request to reject a complaint submitted by Cambodia and the Cambodian Rice Federation (CRF) regarding the EU’s reintroduction of tariffs on Indica rice exports from Cambodia. A court order uploaded to the European