On New Year’s Eve in Japan everyone (and I mean everyone) eats something called toshikoshi soba, year-crossing soba noodles. It’s a thing. And it’s delicious.
If you ask around you’ll hear loads of reasons why you’re supposed to eat these specific noodles on New Year’s Eve. The main one, though, is that the soba represents the way you wish to live: hosoku nagaku. In other words, you’re hoping to live a thin and long life. The thin translates as not too extravagant. You know, living modest and within your means. Sounds reasonable.
We have participated in this tradition every December 31st since I’ve been married, usually buying soba from the store and fixing it ourselves or going out to eat in a noodle shop. But this past New Year’s Eve I decided to level up. I’d make my own.
First, I bought some soba-ko, soba flour.
Second, I watched about three dozen Youtube videos to get the technique down.
Next, the fun began. Actually, everything went rather smoothly. Although a true soba enthusiast might say my noodles were a little thick. But, hey, I always thought the living modestly to be a bit boring.
I got them all cut and nicely jostled.
And that’s when a problem arose. I made the noodles at noon, but I wasn’t planning on cooking them until supper, six-ish. I figured it would be okay to air dry the puppies. What could go wrong, I thought. But as the day progressed and I checked on them they began to get sticky. So I did the thing anyone would do. I sprinkled them with flour and re-jostled them. I did that like four or five times before dinner.
Come six o’clock I make a bunch of tempura and put the water on to boil. I drop the soba oh-so-carefully into the pot, making sure to time them precisely. I’m really getting excited now.
That’s when it happened. My timer beeps and I go to dump the noodles into the colander and ended up with this:
All the noodles broke into tiny pieces. Delicious, but we had to eat them with a spoon. And not only that but kinda a really sucky omen. Instead of living a thin and long life…how about a short and kinda chunky life. Oh dear.
I then announced to my sulky family that the thousands of tiny pieces of soba meant we’d have thousands of good lucks the coming year. They still looked a little glum but decided it best to agree with me.
A problem remained, however, what to do with the left over soba chunks? There was still quite a bit left after our meal.
It took me a day of pondering, but in the end I figured it out. I heated up some olive oil and tossed those little guys in there, fried them up nice and crispy, and then sprinkled them with salt.
Now THEY were delicious!
The moral of the story: When you’re going to screw up a long-honored Japanese tradition, reinvent it, deep fry it, and eat it with salt.