There is a Korean grocery on the ground floor of the building where I work. Sun-Han Mart is where I get stuff like the Lotte Ghana Dark Chocolate bars I bash up for cookie recipes, instant ramyeun for kitchen suppers or gluttonous weekend breakfasts, corn snacks that aren’t as heavily-seasoned or as MSG-heavy as local nibbles can be, cheesecake bars, those fish-shaped ice cream-filled wafer-wiches, and goodness knows what else. (They have instant ice cream mixes, by the way!) It’s also where I’ve made a number of interesting culinary discoveries from frozen dumplings with interesting savoury fillings and tinned foodstuffs that are perfect for rolling into kimbap or futo maki if you’re feeling more Japanese than Korean to dried mushrooms of varying intensities and soup bases.
And, interestingly enough, they have instant buckwheat soba.
At P 40.00 (US$ 0.89), it’s a trifle more expensive than most instant noodle packs. But here’s what you get: a solid, tightly woven disk of dried buckwheat noodles whose nutty aroma permeates the air upon opening the packet. There is a clear plastic packet of a mildly sweet soy sauce and a smaller green packet that contains a freeze-dried block of wasabi interspersed with bits and chunks of shredded nori seaweed and freeze-dried scallions.
You just chuck the noodles into a pot of rapidly boiling water for about four minutes, then drain them well. You should save about a couple tablespoons of the cooking water, by the way. Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water. Chuck the wasabi cube into a bowl and pour over the reserved cooking water till it fizzes and dissolves completely into a clear-ish solution with bits and bobs of seaweed and spring onion; the aroma will have the sharp, pungent notes of fresh wasabi. Add the soy sauce to the wasabi solution and, you, dear reader, are technically done.
On their own, the noodles are anything but bland as they have a nice, rounded flavour: nutty, earthy, somewhat rich. Dipped into the soy-wasabi broth, they gain additional savour and are pretty good eaten as is, perhaps with some grated fresh daikon radish and / or a scattering of more shredded nori. But you readers know how I am: I like my noodles hefty and substantial; and so…
I like topping my soba with some deeply umami stuff like a good sesame and katsuoboshi furikake that adds robustness to the earthy-tasting noodles. Round that off with store-bought gyoza (or, what the heck, steam or boil up some meat- or kimchi-filled mandu dumplings while you’re at it!) and a few slivers of home-cooked tonkatsu and you have a meal fit for an empress.
Of course, I’m not saying you should eat like this everyday, but it’s a magnificent way to indulge yourself in the middle or end of a hectic week.