Toshikoshi Soba – End of Year Soba

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Our last meal of each year in Japan is soba, buckwheat noodles. We call this toshi koshi soba (年越し蕎麦), literally crossing into the new year soba. At first I didn’t get the ritual. Why such a simple meal, either for dinner, or if you are up at midnight, as a small snack late at night? Shouldn’t we be having a big celebration or something more over the top like caviar and Champagne?

But living in a Japanese household, I have seen how hectic and busy the end of December is, especially if you are making osechi ryori (お節料理), an elaborate bento that is to be eaten on January 1st. The simple meal of buckwheat noodles is a quiet respite from end of the year craziness.

The tradition dates back to the Edo era. It is reported that more than half of all Japanese will eat soba on December 31st. Soba shops around the city are busy and historic shops will have long queues.

In the past, soba was eaten to forget the hardships of the past year. Nowadays we eat it as a wish for longevity. There are no set ways for eating the soba, so each household will do their own version. Some popular styles include:

天ぷら tempura of seafood and vegetables

山菜 sansai mountain vegetables (ferns, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, etc.)

鴨 kamo duck

ざる zaru cold noodles with a dipping sauce

もり mori cold noodles topped with nori with a dipping sauce

Arigato, to our blog followers and clients from our Food Sake Tokyo tours.  We are grateful for your friendship. We wish you all the best for the new year.

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Kyobashi Domenica Soup Curry

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Hokkaido’s soup curry is a great change-up on the regular Japanese curry. I remember the first time a girlfriend served this to me. I thought she had messed up the recipe as the curry was so watery, but she explained to me that this is what soup curry is. Once I got over the mind shift that I should not compare this to the thick Japanese curry we are most familiar with, I could enjoy it for what it is.

Domenica, a soup curry shop in Sapporo, has a branch in Kyobashi, just between Ginza and Tokyo Station. The Special Vegetable Curry (Tokusen Yasai Curry 特選野菜カレー) comes with a dozen vegetables and half of a boiled egg. The vegetables are about 300 grams, and in Japan it is said that 350 grams is what your body needs daily, so pretty good for one bowl. The vegetables here are deep-fried and then put into the soup curry. It was a colorful selection including kabocha squash, carrot, young corn, and much more. Chicken can be added to the soup curry.

There are four soups to choose from:

original – kombu, Japanese-style dashi, chicken and pork

tonkotsu – thick pork

tomato – tomato

tonyu soup – soymilk

The original was a nice combination of meat and seafood. When picking your spiciness you tell them a number from 1 to 10. I think I did four and it had a nice heat, but not unbearable.

I asked if the soups were vegetarian and was told that it wasn’t. Sadly, this wouldn’t be good for strict vegetarians, but a good place for those craving vegetables.

Domenica

Chuo-ku, Kyobashi 3-4-1, TM Ginza Bldg. 2F

中央区京橋3-4-1TM銀座ビル2F

www.s-curry-dominica.com/

There is also a branch near Tokyo Station’s Yaesu exit.

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 2-2-21, Nihonbashi 2-Chome Bldg. B1

中央区日本橋2-2-21日本橋2丁目ビルB1F

Shinbashi Tsurumaru Udon 新橋つるまる饂飩

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Tsurumaru is a chain of udon restaurants that I love when I need to grab a quick bite. I find myself often going to the Shinbashi branch as they are open early in the morning, from 7 a.m. It’s a great spot for a quick meal anytime of the day.

The flour for the udon noodles is from Japan. Pre-cooked noodles are boiled after each order is placed and have a nice texture and flavor. The dashi used for the broth includes katsuo (skipjack tuna), saba (Pacific mackerel), and niboshi (dried sardines). It is a delicate broth that is rich in umami.

The basic bowl of noodles is only 200 JPY. There are many types of tempura to use as toppings. I love this vegetable kakiage which is a melange of vegetables fried up in a cake. With my chopsticks I break it up and take a bit with the noodles.

As a standing restaurant there are no chairs. It takes a little while getting used to standing and slurping. Once the bowl cools down you can pick it up and slurp some of the broth. It’s a fun and very local experience.

Tsurumaru つるまる饂飩

Minato-ku, Shinbashi 1-8-6 港区新橋1-8-6

http://www.tsuru-maru.jp/

Other branches include:

港区虎ノ門2-4-1    Minato-ku, Toranomon 2-4-1

渋谷区恵比寿南1-1-12  Shibuya-ku, Ebisu-Minami 1-1-12

渋谷区代々木2-11-12  Shibuya-ku, Yoyogi 2-11-12 (near Shinjuku station)