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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The New Year: Toshikoshi Soba (年越しそば)

I seriously cannot believe it's New Year's Eve. Can I please go back to being a kid again?

Maybe I'm not cut out for the world of food blogging, alongside the multitude of smiling happy women writing their upbeat prose; prose that makes you want to whip out an apron and spatula just to capture some of that bliss, some of that contentment with life that seems to emanate from their words.

I can't do it.

On a good day, I'm endearingly neurotic, making godzilla-worthy messes out of my kitchen, introspective and analytical to a fault. On other days, I'm fickle, wrathful, and dangerously unstable, capable of destroying people in a single spiteful sentence.

I am human, I am imperfect, I am flawed.

Right now, I'm Alice, falling down the rabbit hole. When did the years start to fly by so fast?

There's so much left undone.

I guess, given my mood, that it's ironic that some translate "Toshikoshi" as meaning "killing off the year."

Toshikoshi soba is traditionally eaten on New Year's Eve in Japanese culture as a way of ending the old year and beginning the new year. The long noodles are a prayer for longevity, and traditionally soba is used because it is easier to bite through cleanly than udon, representing a clean cut leaving behind the bad of the last year and going fresh into the new year.

I love the cute designs!
There's no set recipe for toshikoshi soba, you can have it hot or cold, with any topping that suits your fancy. I like it hot, however, because it's great on a chilly night before the clock strikes midnight.

Tenkasu (天かす) are little balls of tempura batter. They soak up the broth and become soft, and can be made by dropping bits of tempura batter into oil, or purchased from your local Japanese market.

P.S. My favorite part of the New Year preparations is seeing all the decorative kamaboko in the markets (see above). Here, the naruto swirl is replaced with flowers, and the plain red and white half-moon has a bonsai tree.

Toshikoshi Soba (年越しそば)

1/3 cup shoyu
1 tbs mirin
1 tbs granulated sugar

2 cups of dashi
2 tbs green onions, green and white parts chopped into thin rounds
2 servings of soba noodles (about 200g)
4-6 slices of kamaboko
2 tbs of tenkasu
Shichimi togarashi for garnish

The mixture above of soy sauce, mirin, and sugar is called kaeshi, which we will dilute with dashi to make the soup base. These quantities can be doubled or tripled and the kaeshi can be placed in the fridge, where it can be stored for months.

To make the kaeshi: Heat the mirin over medium-high heat until it boils, reduce heat to medium and simmer for a few seconds, just enough to burn off the alcohol. Mix in the sugar and stir until it is completely dissolved. Reduce heat to low and add in the shoyu. Gently heat the mixture to barely simmering, then take off the heat.

Take the kaeshi and dilute with dashi to make the soup broth. This is a rough 1 to 5 dilution of kaeshi to dashi, usually you will do 1:5 or to taste. If you want to double/triple this recipe, just make more, and of course feel free to play around with the dilution. Heat to simmering over medium heat.

For the noodles:
Heat a large (about 4-6 quarts) quantity of water to a boil. Place the noodles in the water and return to a boil. Rather than a full rolling boil, you want more of a gentle boil or even a simmer. Depending on how thin your noodles and how hot the water, the noodles will be done in 5-8 minutes. Noodles should be cooked through rather than al dente, but don't let them overcook and become mushy.

Drain the noodles into a colander in the sink. Using cold water, rinse the noodles until cool enough to handle. With your hands, gently scrub the noodles under running water to remove the starches left after the cooking process.

To assemble, divide the noodles into two bowls. Pour the broth equally over the two bowls. Put 2-3 slices of kamaboko in each bowl, along with approximately 1 tbs of green onions and tenkasu each (please save yourself some time and don't measure, just make it to your liking). Sprinkle with shichimi togarashi and serve hot immediately.

See Also:
Zaru Soba
Tsukimi Ramen


  1. I love soba noodles, this looks so cute and delicious, especially with that kamaboko and tenkasu on top! Happy new year! :)

    1. Happy New Year to you too! I was completely enamored with the bonzai tree, and had way too much fun throwing them into instant ramen.

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  3. BentobirdJanuary 7, 2014 at 5:07 PM

    Ah, such a beautiful post (its honesty very much part of its beauty). Your photographs are a joy. Where did you find these delicate and festive kamaboko? Wishing you a rewarding and creative 2014!

    1. Thank you, and I hope you also have a fantastic 2014!

      These kamaboko I found at Mitsuwa. I love when the new year rolls around and Mitsuwa and Marukai have more than just the plain kamaboko and naruto, I always hunt them down. Mr. Mochi thinks I'm crazy, but I get the biggest kick out of the pretty designs.

  4. I'm so jealous that you have access to ingredients like this!

    1. I simply couldn't live somewhere without a Japanese American community. I'd have to have my mom FedEx me packages weekly!

      However, soba is pretty easy to find these days (dried, which I actually liked better than the fresh) in regular grocery stores. Also, as mentioned above, you can make a whole batch of tenkasu easily. The only thing is the kamaboko, but you can substitute fake crab. It's a little different in texture, but it's the same thing (surimi).