t is a custom in Japan to eat something called, toshikoshi soba. Toshikoshi literally means to pass over to the next year; soba are the buck wheat noodles that are sold by vendors in and out of virtually every railroad station in Japan, although not as numerous as the ramen noodle shops. Ultimately, though, the noodles can be eaten anyway you want–in a broth, cold with dipping sauce, rolled up in seaweed like sushi. They become toshikoshi soba by virtue of the date that you eat them, December 31st, the last day of the year.
To me, good soba is as good as good ramen, and there are few things in this world that will surpass either of these meals. But as I just mentioned, there are many more ramen shops. You can leave the turnstiles of any station in Tokyo and you will find a soba shop right outside. You’ll also find about five ramen shops.
But if you ask most Japanese, they will share my opinion. While some will even say they prefer soba to ramen, I have met few who prefer good ramen to good soba. And maybe that’s the key: Good. Few of the ramen vendors make their own noodles. They get a shipment every morning from some nameless noodle factory, and if the shop owner has a great broth, then the noodles are bound to be good–althought I admit to being pretty picky about my broth: Soy sauce base with BBQ pork chashu. *sigh* Shit, I’m getting hungry…
But most soba places cut their own soba. You can get dry soba, packaged much like spaghetti is, at any supermarket. Heck, they sell it at Whole Foods here in Virginia. Speaks volumes for their shelf life, I suppose. And it is not too bad, if you’re the type who doesn’t mind eating spaghetti from the package either. And I don’t mind. I nice, fresh al dente noodle–spaghetti or soba–is nice, but not necessary. But hand made fresh noodles in the states will cost you a pretty penny. Go ask Mario Batali. He’ll be more than happy to sell you some at $18 a plate. But in Japan, you can still get a bowl of fresh soba for a song… well 400 yen, hold the karaoke… I haven’t been to Japan for a while, but at the train station, you can probably still get a bowl for under 300 yen in some places. (Think 1 dollar = 100 yen)
Of course, this is the plain version. Still good piping hot on a cold evening out, while your waiting for the last train to go home. You can add things to it at a price, and they range from tempura crumbs, fried tofu, to eggs to tempura shrimp. My favorite place was actually quite a haul from the station, about a 15 minute walk in the opposite direction from home. But it was worth it. It’s called would Sarashina Jingoro in Kunitachi, Tokyo, south exit. They use Shinshu soba and it is always al dente. The best dish is the Tanuki soba. This is different from most–usually Tanuki soba is just the deep-fried batter used for tempura. Here the topping is a Kakiage–a mix of vegetables and seafood deep fried in batter–and it comes out so hot, I have to wait a few minutes for it to cool down. So I usually have to dig down beneath it to start to eat the soba first–don’t want to let it get soggy.
It could be the hottest day in the summer, and I would crave this. I sometimes have dreams about eating this one dish. I salivate. I’m salvating right now…
Woah! gotta go. M has just made some toshikoshi soba with the mixed seafood-vegetable tempura! Yum!
Have a Happy New Year!