Cross over into the New Year with a Japanese tradition by eating a piping hot bowl of soba noodle soup called Toshikoshi Soba. This simple Japanese noodle dish will melt away the hardship of the past year and welcome the new journey ahead!
On New Year’s Eve, or Ōmisoka (大晦日), it is a custom for the Japanese to reflect on the past year and usher in the coming year, all while enjoying a bowl of hot soba noodles, called Toshikoshi Soba (年越し蕎麦), or year-crossing noodle. What better way to cross over a symbolic bridge than slurping up soba noodles!
What is Toshikoshi Soba (Japanese New Year’s Eve Noodles)
Like many cultures, New Year in Japan is about beginning with a fresh, clean slate. That’s the essence of toshikoshi soba—a hot soba noodle soup that is healthy and easy to make, and full of symbolism.
As a tradition, toshikoshi soba is usually served in its simplest form—buckwheat soba noodles served in a hot dashi broth and garnished with only finely chopped scallions. But if you like, you can make it your own by taking it to the next level by topping it with tempura, kamaboko fish cakes, or a raw egg.
The Toshikoshi Soba recipe I am sharing today is featured on the popular Japanese TV drama called “Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂)” or “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” on Netflix.
Midnight Diner features dishes that are more representative of Japanese home-cooked recipes that you might not have seen in your local Japanese restaurants. “New Year’s Eve Noodles” episode is in Season 1, Episode 10 on Netflix.
History and Culture of Eating Soba Noodles on New Year’s Eve
The tradition of eating soba noodles on New Year’s Eve started as early as the 13th or 14th century in Japan. However, it was not until the Edo Period—when the common class developed customary religious and superstitious rituals—that the tradition of eating toshikoshi soba become established for the Japanese people.
With the hope of good fortune in each bowl, it’s easy to imagine the custom being adopted quickly from family to family, slurping in the symbolism of soba noodles:
- To enjoy a fulfilling, peaceful life with every slurp of the long noodles.
- To break free from the past.
- To gather strength and resilience like the tough buckwheat crop.
- To grow your fortune just as buckwheat flour was once used by goldsmiths to gather leftover gold dust.
Superstitious or not, eating toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve has become one of the most enduring traditions observed by the Japanese people.
Make Good Dashi for Toshikoshi Soba
A good tasty broth is elemental for a simple noodle soup like this. After all, making good dashi (Japanese soup stock) is what defines the dish.
This dashi-based soup broth is delicate, light, and full of umami—thanks to the concentrated flavors from kombu (dried kelp) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes). It is fast and super simple to make, and no chicken or vegetable stock can replace its unique taste. You can read more about dashi in this post.
I wouldn’t recommend taking any shortcuts like using dashi powder or a dashi packet unless you have absolutely no choice. The difference it makes is tremendous. With a solid soup broth, you want to drink it all up!
Vegan/Vegetarian Soba Noodle Soup
To make a vegan or vegetarian Toshikoshi Soba, it is as simple as switching out some ingredients just as below:
- Make Vegan Dashi with kombu and dried shiitake mushrooms.
- Skip kamaboko (fish cake) and add tofu or any other vegetarian/vegan-friendly toppings.
Too Busy? Here’s the Shortcut Soba Noodle Soup Broth
You can purchase a bottle of soup base for noodles called Mentsuyu or Tsuyu (つゆ) at a Japanese/Asian grocery store. It looks like this.
To make noodle soup, all you need to do is to dilute the Tsuyu with water.
Each brand has different instructions for diluting the Metsuyu. Find the usage guide on the bottle that looks like this.
The Ratio of Tsuyu to Water
- Dipping sauce for cold noodles – “Tsuketsuyu” – 1 : 3
- Hot noodle soup – “Kaketsuyu” – 1 : 6-8
- Donburi dishes or Tentsuyu – 1 : 3-4
- Oden or Nabemono (hot pot) – 1 : 8-10
- Nimono (simmered food) – 1 : 4-6
For this recipe, hot noodle soup (Serves 2)
- Hot noodle soup – 1/4 cup Mentsuyu + 2 cups water (1:8 ratio) + I usually add a splash of mirin.
All you need to do is to heat up the broth and boil soba noodles. Add your favorite toppings and enjoy!
Yoi Otoshi O (Have a Great Year Ahead!) 良いお年を！
After all the hearty holiday feasts and sweets, toshikoshi soba is a welcoming and comforting dish this time of year. As the Japanese believe, it is a bowl that will tide you over before the temple bells chime and the countdown begins. If you’re looking to adopt a new tradition to ring in the New Year, eating soba noodle soup could easily be your new favorite!
Other Dishes to Enjoy on Japanese New Year’s Eve
- Soba Noodle Soup Topped with Tempura
- Curry Udon
- Kake Udon (Udon Noodle Soup)
- Japanese Hot Pots
- Sushi Party
Once you cross over the New Year, we’ll begin with Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year’s Food) — the most important feast of the year.
Toshikoshi Soba (New Year’s Eve Soba Noodle Soup)
For the Soba Broth (from scratch)
- 3 cups water (for vegan/vegetarian, you can skip katsuobushi or make Vegan Dashi)
- 1 piece kombu (dried kelp) (10 g; 4 x 4 inches, 10 x 10 cm per piece)
- 1 cup katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) (skip for vegetarian/vegan)
- 1 Tbsp sake
- 2 Tbsp mirin
- 2 Tbsp usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce (or regular soy sauce)
- ¼ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
For the Toppings
- Gather all the ingredients. [Optional] Soak the kombu in water overnight. If you don’t have time, start soaking the kombu as soon as you can. Bring a big pot of water to a boil for soba noodles.
To Make Homemade Soup Broth
- Add 1 piece kombu (dried kelp) and 3 cups water (also known as cold brew kombu dashi) in a medium saucepan. Slowly bring it to a boil over medium-low heat (so kombu dashi will be more flavorful). When it comes to a close boil, discard the kombu (you can make furikake rice seasoning with the leftover kombu).
- Add 1 cup katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and simmer for 30 seconds. Then turn off the heat and let katsuobushi sink to the bottom of the saucepan. Let steep for about 10 minutes (meanwhile, you can prepare the toppings).
- Drain and reserve the dashi in the measuring cup (or bowl) and discard the katsuobushi (you can make furikake rice seasoning with the leftover katsuobushi). Put the dashi back in the saucepan.
- Add 1 Tbsp sake, 2 Tbsp mirin, 2 Tbsp usukuchi (light-colored) soy sauce (or regular soy sauce), and ¼ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt.
- Bring it to a simmer. Once boiling, remove from the heat, cover, and set aside.
To Prepare Toppings
- Rehydrate 2 Tbsp dried wakame seaweed in 1 cup water. Then squeeze the water out and set aside.
- Thinly slice 1 green onion/scallion.
- Detach the bottom of the kamaboko from the wooden board and thinly cut 4 slices kamaboko (fish cake).
To Cook Soba Noodles
- In a pot of boiling water, cook 7 oz dried soba noodles (buckwheat noodles) according to the package instruction. Unlike pasta, you do not need to add salt to the water.
- Drain the soba noodles and rinse them under cold water to get rid of the starch. Transfer the noodles to individual bowls.
- Pour hot soup broth over soba noodles, top with kamaboko, wakame seaweed, and green onions. Sprinkle shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven spice) if you like. Enjoy while it’s hot.
To Make the Quick Soba Broth (with concentrated mentsuyu; optional)
- Follow your mentsuyu bottle instructions to make the broth.
- In a medium saucepan, combine 2⅓ cups water,⅓ cup mentsuyu (concentrated noodle soup base), and 1 Tbsp mirin and mix well. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Cover with a lid and turn off the heat. The soba broth is ready to use.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 30, 2018. It’s been republished in December 2020.