Fresh soba from a buckwheat ace

Noodle-making and downward dog might not initially seem like kindred acts.

Soba-noodle-obsessed Sonoko Sakai, however, happily relates the two. She told us that making “soba is like yoga. It’s very, very therapeutic. I love the labor.”

Tasting the skeins of that effort became far easier last month, when Sakai started making 50 servings of noodles a week in the kitchen of South Pasadena’s Ai. After nearly three years of pop-ups, classes, and organizing Common Grains events, Sakai is now working more steadily in a soba-chef-like role. In addition to being served at Ai, the noodles can be bought fresh, with dipping sauce, at Cookbook ($12 for 9 ounces).

For her noodles, Sakai uses an 80/20 blend of buckwheat and wheat, a traditional ratio that dates to Japan's Edo period. The ratio helps the soba keep their shape, and the noodles are easy to cook at home: Sixty seconds in boiling water, a quick shock in ice, and a lunch for two is nearly ready. 

Sakai sees soba-making as a lifelong venture, a declaration she’s bet the farm on: She is currently experimenting with growing buckwheat on her 20 acres in Tehachapi.

Ai Japanese Restaurant, 1013 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena; 626-799-0534 or aisouthpasadena.comCookbook, 1549 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park; 213-250-1900 or

Cookbook 1549 Echo Park Ave. Los Angeles CA 90026 213-250-1900
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