I will be seeing the New Year in not with black-bun, not with shortbread, and certainly not with haggis, but this year with a bowl of Toshikoshi. There are many dishes associated with Japanese New Year day, but only one that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve and that is a bowl of slurppy Toshikoshi, or year-crossing noodles, and that is what catches my fancy this year.
On New Year’s Eve, or Ōmisoka, it is a custom for Japanese to reflect on the past year and usher in the coming year (JustOneCookbook). This custom lets go of the hardship of the year (especially relevant for 2020, I think) since soba noodles are easily cut while eating and listening to the ringing of the temple bells marking New Year. Others, amongst them Live Japan, say that the noodles should not be eaten on the crossover of the year (and so not when you can hear the bells, but before) because the tradition is about breaking with the old year and clearing the way for the new year. Thus crossovers are considered to be bad luck – and you don’t want to start your new year with that.
The history of this tradition dates back around 800 years, to the Kamakura period, and it is said to have started at one Buddhist temple that gave soba to poor people on New Year’s (Live Japan). In the Edo period, these New Year’s noodles, or toshikoshi soba, eventually turned into a fixed custom which is still common to people all over Japan.
There are two types of soba: those that can be eaten warm in a soup, and those, called zaru soba, that are eaten cold by being dipped in a sauce. Either is right for this celebration. Today I am going for the warm, soupy ones. JustOneCookbook says this soba noodle dish is usually served in its simplest form – buckwheat soba noodles served in a hot dashi broth with finely chopped scallions. But that basic tradition of Toshikoshi Soba can be taken to the next level by adding in tempura, mushroom, tofu, or egg which add to the deliciousness of the start of the new year.
(Thanks to Cilantro and Citronella for use of their image)