In West Oakland, Koichi Ishii does something few other chefs in the United States can. In the very early morning hours he is in a small glass enclosed room in his restaurant making soba by hand.
The tradition of eating soba originates from the Tokugawa period, also called the Edo period, from 1603 to 1868. In the Tokugawa era, every neighborhood had one or two soba establishments, many also serving SAKE, which functioned much like modern cafes where locals would stop for a casual meal.
According to an article in Umami Art, Soba Ichi is the Bay Area’s first homemade soba restaurant. It is an opening that has taken years to create, a partnership between Shinichi Washino, Koichi Ishii, Christian Geideman, and Paul Discoe, who all met at Ippuku in Berkeley.
A well-known Los Angeles cookbook author, Sonoko Sakai, who herself has trained with soba masters in Tokyo, says that “artisan” soba makers like Ishii, who grind their own flour and who refuse the help of machines to roll and cut noodles, have become a rarity in Japan. “I last heard from my miller in Japan, who specializes only in buckwheat milling for soba houses, that there are about 40,000 soba shops (in the country), but less than 1 percent are true artisans,” she says.
Recently there was an amazing article written up in the San Francisco Chronicle by Jonathan Kauffman @jonkauffman about the art of making SOBA noodles by hand. We are very lucky to be living in the greater SF Bay Area to taste these artisan-crafted noodles. You’ll never look at Ramen noodles the same again.