What do Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve?

27 Dec
soba photo by Yamaguchi Yoshiaki

photo by Yamaguchi Yoshiaki under a creative commons license

What do Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve?

Actually, no one has ever asked me that question.  Perhaps the concept of eating something specific on New Year’s Eve is uniquely Japanese.  As I wrote in the previous post,  Japanese spend quiet time with families during oshgōatsu (New Year’s holiday).  While the rest of the world is having parties on New Year’s Eve, Japanese spend time cleaning their houses, watching kōhaku uta gassen (紅白歌合戦), an annual music show, and eating toshikoshi-soba (年越し蕎麦), Year-End Soba.

What is soba?

Soba noodles are popular dish in Japan throughout the year.  They’re made of buckwheat flour or a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flour.  Despite its name, buckwheat doesn’t contain wheat, so it’s naturally gluten-free.  Instead it has vitamins B1 and B2, several minerals, proteins, and choline.  Because buckwheat is loaded with health benefits, soba noodles have become very popular overseas in recent years.  Soba dishes can be served cold or hot.


Cold soba (Zarusoba)

What is toshikoshi-soba?

Toshikoshi-soba is a soba dish Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve.  It comes with many different toppings such as seaweed, fried-tofu, and vegetables, and it is usually served hot.  There are varieties of toshikoshi soba, depending on the region.  In Tokyo where I’m from toshikoshi-soba tastes and looks the same as a regular hot soba dish.  What makes it special is the day we eat it.

Why do Japanese eat toshikoshi-soba?

There are several theories on why this tradition began.  Some say that long soba noodles symbolize a long life.   Others say that because it’s easy to cut soba, it is a metaphor for letting go of hardship of the year.  In any case, this tradition began during the Edo period (1603 – 1867), and it’s still very much a part of holiday traditions in Japan.  According to the recent survey, over half of Japanese eat toshikoshi-soba on New Year’s Eve.

How to eat soba properly?

If you’ve ever seen Japanese eat noodles, you may have be shocked by how much noises we make while eating them.  Japanese noodles are long (instant noodles sold in the U.S are cut shorter), so it is perfectly acceptable to slurp them.  In fact if you eat noodles quietly in Japan, that’d seem rather odd to us.  No one will be offended, if you do, though.  What’s the most important table manner in Japan?  Enjoying your food.

If you’re interested in making toshikoshi-soba at home, click here for recipe.

I wish you a wonderful holiday season and a new year filled with happiness and peace.

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13 Responses to “What do Japanese eat on New Year’s Eve?”

  1. lmjapan December 29, 2013 at 9:15 pm #

    I never knew you were supposed to eat soba on New Year’s Eve! Sometimes my mom would serve it on New Year’s Day but never the night before. My mom probably already has something planned for this year’s New Year’s Eve dinner but I’m going to make her do the traditional thing next year lol!

    • Yumi December 29, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

      That sounds good. 🙂 Will you be eating mochi on New Year? I wish you a wonderful holiday!

      • lmjapan January 7, 2014 at 7:22 am #

        Thank you, I hope you had a wonderful New Year’s as well! I ate lots of ozoni on the big day with plenty of mochi in it. One of my favorite things to eat, I wish my mom would make it throughout the year lol.

        • Yumi January 7, 2014 at 8:02 am #

          That’s wonderful. Ozoni is one of my favorite new year foods also. 🙂 Happy New Year!!

  2. Anonymous December 31, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    I’m looking for information on how to cut Kanten. Do you have any thoughts?

    • Yumi January 7, 2014 at 7:59 am #

      If kanten is solid, you should be able to cut with a knife.

  3. Nihon Scope January 1, 2018 at 6:53 pm #

    I had Indian curry this year ^_^


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