Shinshu soba (信州そば) is a generic term for soba noodles made in the Nagano prefecture of Japan.
The word Shinshu (or Shinshū / Shinshuu) is just another name for the old Shinano province, which is where modern day Nagano prefecture is.
Why is Nagano / Shinshu soba famous?
Nagano is regarded by many as the birthplace of soba noodles in Japan. Its history traces all the way back to the Edo period (1603 – 1867).
The prefecture’s cold/dry climate, soil, and high elevation make it very suitable for growing buckwheat. The area also has plenty of fresh, clean water. With these two raw ingredients, soba noodles naturally became part of Nagano’s food identity.
As a prefecture, Nagano currently produces the second highest amount of soba in the country (after Hokkaido).
Official Trademark for Dried Shinshu Soba
Not all soba noodles made in Nagano can officially be labelled as “Shinshu Soba”.
For dried/packaged noodles, there is actually an organization called the “Nagano Prefecture Shinshu-soba Cooperative” (長野県信州そば協同組合) that governs the use of the official “Shinshu Soba” label (see image above).
Before a dried/packaged soba can use the trademark, a judging committee will examine the taste, shape, aroma, and color of the noodles. Only noodles that pass judgement can then be labelled as certified “Shinshu Soba”.
To be certified, the soba must satisfy the following conditions:
- Manufactured in Nagano prefecture
- Does not violate any other related laws or regulations.
- Contains more than 40% buckwheat flour
- Excellent content and design, maintaining the dignity of Shinshu soba
- Pass the examination based on the examination rules.
The last couple of conditions are a bit vague, so I guess it just depends on if the committee members like the noodles or not. Here is a photo of a product that has the certified “Shinshu Soba” label:
There are still many dried soba that use the name “Shinshu soba” (信州そば）on their packaging, but without the official label/stamp.
For fresh/non-dried versions, there is no official regulations or specifications. If it is from Nagano, then it’s Shinshu soba!
Types of local Shinshu soba
Within Nagano, there are many regional specialty soba types/dishes. In fact, there is said to be over 30 different local types of Shinshu soba. The main differences are in the way they are served.
The most famous is Togakushi soba, which is also considered as one of the “Big Three” soba types of Japan. A serving consists of five or six small bundles, or “bocchi”.
Some other notable types include Toji soba (とうじそば), Sunki soba (すんきそば), Azumino soba（安曇野そば), and Oshibori soba (おしぼりそば). Check out the gallery below for images:
SHINSHU SOBA GALLERY
Buy some Shinshu soba
If you’re in Nagano, or somewhere else in Japan, Shinshu soba is readily purchasable at many supermarkets.
Otherwise, I found one item on Amazon with the official trademark label. It’s crazy expensive though (affiliate link):
Shinshu Togakushi Soba Noodles
If you don’t care about official certification, here’s another one that doesn’t have the official stamp, but seems like pretty legitimate Shinshu soba:
Hakubaku Premium No Salt Soba noodle
Here is a summary of Shinshu soba facts:
- Origin: Nagano
- Japanese name: 信州そば
- Official requirements for dried/packaged soba:
- Must contain at least 40% buckwheat flour to be called “Shinshu” soba
- Pass official examination from the Nagano Shinshu-soba Cooperative
- Popular regional types:
- Togakushi soba (戸隠そば)
- Azumino soba (安曇野そば)
- Toji soba (とうじそば)
- Sunki soba (すんきそば)
- Oshibori soba (おしぼりそば)
I will be spending this winter in Nagano, so hope to try lots of shinshu soba!
Let me know in the comments:
Have you tried shinshu soba before? What did you think?