Have you heard of new year’s soba? In Japan, on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, lots of peeps like to eat toshikoshi soba. Toshikoshi literally means “year crossing noodle.” It’s a super simple humble dish of soba for good fortune for the new year. Eating soba symbolizes letting go of the hardships of the last year while looking forward to strength and resiliency in the new year.
Personally it sounds like a great excuse to eat noodles but it also makes sense metaphorically too. Soba is easily broken while being eaten (especially soba that’s 100% buckwheat), which is how you’re letting go of the hardships of the past year. As for the strength, buckwheat plants are also super resilient and can grow in extreme weather. It’s a beautiful metaphor and if it brings just a little bit of extra luck into 2020, i’m all in.
Most people have a warm bowl of toshikoshi soba because it’s winter, but there’s no reason why you can’t have zaru soba either. Like most traditions, it’s house rules – kind of like how everyone plays Monopoly differently. We do both or either but this year we’ll probably do zaru soba because we like our soba noodles nice and firm. Zaru soba is one of the easiest dishes to make. All you need to do is mix together a dipping sauce called mentsuyu and cook the soba. Dip, eat, and repeat!
A Guide to Buying Soba
Soba is pretty much available at any Asian grocery store, online, and in some higher end stores like Whole Foods. Most soba in North America is sold dried in bundles in packages.
There are two kinds of soba, ones that are 100% buckwheat and ones that are a mix of buckwheat and regular flour. The 100% buckwheat noodles are nuttier and more aromatic. They happen to be naturally gluten free but because of that they tend to break more easily. If you like a chewier noodle, go for a soba that has a mix of flours. As a general rule, buckwheat should be the first ingredient and a higher buckwheat to flour ratio is what you’re looking for.
How to Prepare Soba
Bring a large pot of water to a boil – there’s no need to salt the water – and add the noodles in, swirling. Cook according to the package instructions, one bundle per person, being sure to give the soba a swirl every so often. When the time is up, don’t pour out the soba cooking water, or sobayu (literally hot soba water). Do like they do in soba shops: after you finish eating your soba, mix the sobayu (about 1/2 cup to a cup) into the soba dipping sauce and drink it like a soup.
Instead of draining, use a noodle scoop to move the noodles into a colander. Rinse the soba vigorously under running cold water and then drain well and arrange on a plate or a soba basket.
If you’re going to be eating the soba in hot soup, do the same steps, then prepare the soup and place the rinsed off soba in a bowl with the soup.
PS – If you don’t have soba handy, you can always eat any noodles for an extra boost of luck in the new year. Noodles are a lucky symbol of longevity, so just make sure you’re eating long noodles and not macaroni or rotini!