Eating soba is an art in itself. It’s not complicated, but certain measures should be taken to ensure the best experience.
Soba — literally translating into buckwheat in Japanese — is often served chilled with a dipping sauce, because unlike other noodles, soaking soba in hot soup will change the noodles’ consistency. But that doesn’t mean that soba can’t be served in hot broth.
Tucked in the Lower East Side, Cocoron aims to offer healthy Japanese home cooking that will lift your spirits, inducing the “heartwarming” feeling that its name translates into. The space is small and the tables are packed closely together — typical of Manhattan restaurants — but the dark walls create a calm, comfortable ambiance.
Soba is one of its best-sellers and the noodles are served fresh with a selection of tasty broths and dips.
The Mera Mera Dip Soba is a popular choice at Cocoron. It’s not a broth, but it might as well be. The dip arrives in a pot with steam rising from the surface, swimming with vegetables and tender chunks of chicken. It’s rather spicy, but not the kind that makes you chug water like there’s no tomorrow. It’s ideal for the cold weather. You can also request a poached egg or other condiments to spruce up the meal.
So here’s the best way to enjoy your soba:
First, know how to use chopsticks so you don’t embarrass yourself when one of them suddenly slips from your grip and lands beside the foot of a complete stranger, who happens to be sitting inches from your table.
Second, dip a small pinch of soba into the steaming sauce and transfer the slippery noodles—dripping with Mera Mera glory—into the little bowl.
Third, slurp quietly. Japanese culture actually encourages noisy slurping, because the noisier the slurp, the bigger the appreciation for the noodles. On the contrary, in New York and almost everywhere else, it’s considered impolite to slurp loudly when you’re in public. Plus you don’t want to draw too much attention to yourself, especially since the entire restaurant witnessed your embarrassing chopstick skills.
Enjoy a cup of green tea with your meal. The tea is served hot, with wisps of smoke curling from its surface.
Cocoron’s menu is adorable. It features plenty of cartoons and colors. As you’re flipping through the laminated pages, you’ll even see a comic strip, known as manga. The restaurant tries to convey its stance in healthy eating through art.
Yoshihito Kida launched Cocoron to express his passion for soba. He said, “Through soba, I want people to discover that being healthy isn't an alternative to taste. In the US, the concept of health is almost like a choice or a sacrifice you have to make, but in Japan, health and taste somehow co-exist together, and I want to deliver that through my store."
The Mera Mera dip sauce is delicious, but do feel free to try the warm pork kimchee soba or any of the cold varieties. Cocoron also offers vegetarian soba. Now everyone can enjoy good soba, with or without meat. And if you can’t use chopsticks… there’s always the fork.