The end of the year is upon us. Though I may be a little early, I would like to talk to you all about another dish that’s part of Japanese New Year’s culture: Toshikoshi Soba.
The tradition of eating large portions of soba noodles dates back to the middle of the Edo Period. They call it Toshikoshi Soba. But how did this tradition come to be? There are many theories on this, but here are three of the major beliefs below:
1.) Soba noodles are thin and long, so we eat them as a prayer for longevity.
2.) Soba is easy to cut through, carrying you into the new year with the feeling that all of your woes will be easily overcome, and that saving money will come easily.
3.) Since goldsmiths used dumplings kneaded with soba flour to collect spilled gold and silver, people believe eating soba will bring good fortune.
They all seem like viable reasons, but combining all of those ideas together, one can say that is where the name Toshikoshi (meaning to “overcome the year”) came from. Depending on the region, some people call this dish Gantan Soba.
Japan has so many varieties of local and regional cuisine that even if you mention Toshikoshi Soba, you will find many types and ways of eating the same dish that all differ from one another. As for the variety of soba, when having Toshikoshi Soba, most people will eat the soba of their home region. For example, in Kyoto and Hokkaido, they will eat Nishin Soba, which has a sweet and spicy topping and brings good wishes for the health of all children and relatives. Additionally, in Fukui, people eat “Toshimae Soba,” and “Hegisoba” is eaten in Niigata, with each region having its own preparation. Morioka of the Iwate Prefecture is famous for Wankosoba, which apparently you were only able to eat the number of noodles corresponding to your age. In Kagawa Prefecture, famous for udon, they eat Toshikoshi Udon, as to be expected as a region known for udon. In Tokyo, we eat Okamesoba. Okamesoba has kamaboko and naruto as ingredients arranged to look like a face. It received this name because this “face” looks like Okame, meaning “many fortunes.”
Aside from being for one’s health, Toshikoshi Soba is eaten for good luck. The most popular choice is “Tempura Soba,” which is topped with big pieces of shrimp tempura. Since the shrimp are curved along their long backs, it also symbolizes longevity.
I hope you will all try to eat some warm, delicious Tempura Soba on this final year in the Heisei Period. I am certain it will warm your heart and soul in these continuous cold days. Please take care not to catch a cold, and enjoy your New Year.
Source: Tokyo College of Sushi and Washoku: The College Headmaster’s One-Dish Course Series.
Photo source: Tokyo College of Sushi and Washoku: The College Headmaster’s One-Dish Course Series.