All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.


Last food of the year -- toshikoshi soba / year-end buckwheat noodles, December 31, 2011

The custom of eating soba noodles for good luck on New Year's Eve is said to have started sometime in the Edo period (1603-1868). Soba noodles snap easily, so you can cut off all the bad luck of the past year and start anew from New Year's Day – at least this is what I was told when I was growing up. It's just a superstition, but I feel uneasy if I fail to eat soba noodles before the year changes, thinking that all my bad luck, if I've had any, will continue in the coming year. Some people say that if you don't finish your soba noodles before the year ends, you will have bad luck financially in the new year. However, according to multiple sources, wishes for longevity -- based on the noodle's skinny, long shape -- is the most common belief. No matter what you hear, it is the food people eat to have a happy new year.

My family usually went out to eat soba noodles at a specialty restaurant on New Year's Eve. For soba noodles, udon noodles and ramen noodles, there are quite a few specialty restaurants even in small towns across Japan, and people usually have their favorites. We always liked to go to a restaurant that served teuchi (handmade) soba, where you can see a soba chef kneading, rolling out and cutting soba noodles in a corner (often near the entrance or window so that passersby can see him). Since there are so many good restaurants that serve decent noodles, soba was a food that we always ate at restaurants.

In the US, I haven't eaten any good soba noodles – not even once – at a restaurant and gave up on finding a good place a long time ago. The best option is to get good dried soba noodles and make your own soup. Bottled mentsuyu noodle soup base is handy but generally too sweet. I am still working on finding the best proportions of ingredients for soba noodle soup base and dashi. This year (2011), the soup turned out pretty good but a bit too strong for me. At least Tom liked it, but I warned him not to finish the soup because it had a lot of salt. Tom gave me that look, and said "I know." I guess I've repeated this warning so many times over the years that the concept is ingrained in Tom's brain.

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