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.