National | Regional voices: Chubu

Using their noodles: Fukui school’s soba club hopes to roll to national title

Chunichi Shimbun

Noodle club members from a high school in the city of Fukui are hurriedly honing their soba-making skills to prepare themselves for the national high school championship in Tokyo later this month.

The noodle club, a rarity even in noodle-crazed Japan, was launched two years ago at Keishin High School and won third prize in individual competitions at last year’s championship. It’s aiming even higher this year, as it looks to land first place in both individual and team competitions.

“Do you think this soba looks great or delicious? You won’t get a high score if you can’t make your soba look tasty,” says Eiichi Hoyama, 62, a soba master who supervises the club.

Fukui Prefecture is known for Echizen oroshi, a style in which the buckwheat noodles are served cold with grated radish. Hoyama, who runs a nearby soba shop, has been promoting locally produced noodles using indigenous buckwheat varieties. Four years ago, he asked if he could give lessons at the high school’s culinary department.

In fall 2014, students who attended Hoyama’s lessons created a soba group as part of the school’s cooking club and began a variety of activities, including soba-making shows at local events. The section was upgraded to an independent club in April 2016 and has 16 members.

Akane Fujita, a 17-year-old third-year student who heads the club, said she joined shortly after it was officially launched, after being impressed by a noodle-making performance.

When she first started, her noodles would break into short pieces when boiled because she couldn’t figure out the right water-to-flour ratio. The amount of water required to make good noodles changes daily as it depends on the temperature and humidity in the room. Experienced cooks can figure out the proper amount by how the noodles feel in their hands.

“It is important to practice many times. Every time we make soba, we set different goals, focusing on different points,” Fujita said.

The students can only practice two days per week because of budgetary reasons but recently received permission to make two batches each time instead of one.

Keishin’s students have been vying for the national championship since 2015.

The competition is organized by a noodle industry federation and sees teams from some 30 high schools across Japan take part. The highly ranked schools come mostly from major soba-producing regions, such as Hokkaido or northern Kanto.

When Keishin took third in an individual competition last year, it was the first time a student from the Chubu region had done so.

In team competitions, where the four members rotate in four-minute shifts to knead, cut and complete a batch of soba within 40 minutes, Keishin has never made it onto the podium.

The noodles are judged by professional soba masters based on criteria including appearance and thinness. Close cooperation is important to create the perfect noodles.

With two weeks to go until this year’s championship on Aug. 20, Keishin’s soba club is working to make the most of their practice sessions in their quest for noodle perfection.

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on July 27.