The word tsu (connoisseur) is often bandied around when talking about Japanese cuisine. Originally denoting a general savoir-faire in worldly matters — most especially in the pleasure quarters — it is now widely used for those who know their food and drink.

And yet a tsu is not necessarily a gourmet in the Western sense. Along with connoisseurship, there is also a connotation of refinement bordering on asceticism. Thus a sushi tsu is as likely to extol kohada (the lowly gizzard shad) as premium toro tuna.

And that is why, since Edo times (1603-1867), one of the favorite areas of expertise for the tsu has been soba, those quintessentially Japanese noodles prepared from humble buckwheat flour and eaten with the simplest of dipping sauces.