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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogTanuki Soba Noodles: Everything You Need to Know!

Tanuki Soba Noodles: Everything You Need to Know!

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
October 30, 2023
A bowl of tanuki soba with tempura bits and green onions.

Tanuki soba is a tasty and comforting Japanese noodle dish gaining popularity beyond Japan’s borders. We’ll explore its origins, ingredients, and regional variations. We’ll also show you where to enjoy these noodles and explain why they’re beloved!

What are tanuki soba noodles?

Tanuki soba is a warm and hearty Japanese noodle dish, mostly made with buckwheat soba noodles. This dish is famous for its flavorful dashi broth. The broth uses a soy sauce base. What makes it unique is the topping that gives it its name.

A bowl of chilled tanuki soba noodles with cucumbers and a boiled egg.
Tanuki soba uses tempura bits. Image via Shutterstock

The star of the show, of course, is the “tanuki” or raccoon dog, which lends its name to this dish. But don’t worry; no raccoon dogs are harmed in making this meal! Instead, the name comes from the crispy topping, which looks like the crumbs left behind when making tempura. This tempura batter is dropped into the oil, scooped up, and added as a savory and crunchy garnish, giving the dish an extra layer of flavor and texture.

This noodles dish also includes seaweed strips and fish cakes, adding many textures and flavors. It’s also common to find sliced green onions and dried fish flakes sprinkled over the top, making the overall taste and presentation more powerful.

Where did tanuki soba come from?

The name “tanuki soba” has many theories about its origin. Some think it comes from the tenkasu because they resemble a raccoon dog’s tail. The word “tanuki” sounds like “tane-nuki,” or removing seeds, since tenkasu look like seeds.

Two tanuki statues.
Tanuki are raccoom dogs! Image via Shutterstock

“Tanuki” could also refer to the darker broth used, unlike the lighter kitsune soba. This dish isn’t only influential in cuisine, but even in neighborhoods! In Tokyo’s Roppongi neighborhood, there is a bridge called “Tanukibashi”, named after a tanuki soba restaurant that used to exist nearby!

Are there any regional varieties?

Like many traditional Japanese dishes, tanuki soba can vary by region. In Osaka, you might find it known as haikara or fancy soba. Osaka’s version has sweet and savory aburaage toppings, offering a twist that shows the differences and preferences in Japanese cuisine.

A bowl of noodles with tempura bits and kamabokoro.
Soba noodles use buckwheat. Image via Shutterstock

Kyoto has its version, where “tanuki” means noodles topped with sliced aburaage and kudzu (arrowroot) starch sauce, creating a separate flavor from its neighbor. This results overall in a richer and thicker flavor than its Osakan counterpart.

Additionally, other regions may prefer the toppings or broth, reflecting the local culinary traditions and tastes. Some areas may use different types of fish cakes or seasonings, offering fun regional spins on this beloved dish. These regional differences show the range within Japanese cuisine, reflecting local preferences and traditions that shape the experience of enjoying these noodles.

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Where can I eat these noodles?

For an authentic experience, seek out dedicated soba and udon restaurants, where you’ll find a broad selection of noodle dishes! Alternatively, explore the busy world of small noodle stands and stalls scattered across Japan, which often feature tanuki soba on their menus for a quick and delicious meal.

A bowl of soba noodles with inarizushi and topped with okra and shikuwasa.
You can have all kinds of toppings on it, like okra! Image via Shutterstock

If you prefer a relaxed dining setting, try going to an izakaya, where tanuki soba can be a delightful addition or end to your meal. Remember that regional variations add a twist to this dish, with unique interpretations in Osaka, Kyoto, and other regions. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, you can make tanuki noodles in your kitchen with the many recipes!

When it comes to notable tanuki soba restaurants, there’s plenty in Tokyo! One of them is Toshimaya in Ningyocho! Not only do they serve tanuki soba both hot and cold, but they also have an English menu to make ordering easier for you!

A bowl of tanuki soba.
Tanuki soba can be served both hot and chilled. Image via Shutterstock

Lastly, for a convenient and budget-friendly option, Japan’s convenience stores have pre-packaged or ready-made tanuki soba for a satisfying on-the-go meal. Whether planning a visit to Japan or dining locally, keep an eye out for these amazing noodles!

Why should I try tanuki soba?

Tanuki soba is a beautiful Japanese noodle dish featuring buckwheat soba noodles in a savory soy sauce-infused dashi broth, topped with crumbled tempura batter for that extra flavor and texture. Inspired by the raccoon dog, its playful name adds a touch of playfulness to the world of Japanese cuisine. 

And like many other Japanese dishes, regional variations ensure you can enjoy the unique flavors of different areas. So, whether you’re a seasoned lover of Japanese cuisine or new to tanuki soba, there’s always something delicious to discover! Have you tried these noodles or have a favorite regional variation? Let us know in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!

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