Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan Times, plus a bit about my niece and nephew

img: a hot and steamy bowl of soba noodles to end the year

I’ve had an article with recipe in The Japan Times every month since August. Writing for them is a bit different than writing for my blogs; I try to focus more on the story behind the food, and I also write for English speaking people living in Japan, who are the main audience for the paper. It’s an interesting challenge every month! Anyway, for this month I have an article about Toshikoshi soba, or year-end soba. It goes into a lot more of the historical background and origins of the custom of eating soba noodles on New Year’s Eve than my old toshikoshi soba post from back in 2003. The recipe is also a bit different; instead of using pre-made kaeshi or storebought mentsuyu, I give instructions for making the soup totally from scratch using konbu seaweed, bonito flakes, soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Again I’m assuming that most of the readers have ready access to these ingredients, as well as the kamaboko topping. Anyway, I hope you’ll take a look!

I’ve used my favorite eating-model again for the top photo accompanying the article, my 9 year old niece Lena. (I’ve spelled her name phonetically as “Rena” on these pages before, but she apparently favors the spelling “Lena”. Her name in kanji is 玲奈.) I love my nephew Lyoh, her older brother, just as much of course, but he tends to pull awful/funny faces when I point the lens at him, as boys will do. Lena-chan is a great model; she loves to pose for the camera when she’s aware of it, and when she’s not she has the most adorable, intent look on her face. Here she is eating some sushi. She’s checking under the fish for wasabi, since she doesn’t like it.

lena-sushi.jpg

Lena and Lyoh are both great kids, though I may be biased as their aunt. They are quite rambunctious and can start a wrestling match in the back seat of their dad’s SUV at the drop of a hat, but they’re definitely not kids that their parents are afraid to take out to a restaurant at any time. Even when they were younger, they knew how to behave themselves. Here’s Lena-chan eating soba again when she was just 6 years old, with my mother looking on fondly. Even when she was little, she had great table manners.

lena-soba-2007.jpg

I spent a weekend with my sister, her husband and the kids at Hakone, a popular resort area at the foot of Mount Fuji, in November. We ate out a lot of course, and wherever we went the kids behaved themselves impeccably. When we went to a kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant, Lyoh even ordered some special items directly to the waitress just like his dad. (Tip: if you want to be ensured of freshly made sushi at a kaiten-zushi place rather than sushi that may have been around the track several times, just put your order in for something directly.) I don’t think they are necessarily unusual - most kids in restaurants are quite well behaved, especially in Japan. But I was reminded of how jarring kids in restaurants can be the other day when I was at a cafe, where a set of parents were ignoring the fact that their kids were running around rampant. It happens in all countries, and I really think it’s all up to how the parents react. Lyoh happens to have ADD and some other problems, so he can get a bit agitated sometimes, but when that happens one of his parents talk him down quietly so that he breathes and calms down.

I love this photo of the kids that I took at Tokyo Disney. It really shows their personalities. Lena-chan is trying to pose cutely for the camera, and there’s Lyoh-kun totally ignoring it and jumping up and down, full of beans.

lyoh-lena-jump.jpg

Another fun thing about my niece and nephew is that they both prefer washoku or Japanese food most of the time over Western food. Sure, they do beg for a Makku (Japanese slang for McDonald’s) visit sometimes as all kids do, but not that much. When we went out for breakfast at a diner-type place, the adults all ordered “morning sets” with toast, eggs, and so on, but the kids both ordered traditional Japanese style sets with rice, miso soup, pickles and fish or chicken. When I took them to Tokyo Disney back in the spring, they grew tired of eating things like Mickey Mouse shaped pastries, so their mother went out to get them some bentos, which they tucked into happily. Lena is especially fond of Japanese food. Here she’s eating some mitarashi dango.

Don't get between a girl and her dango!

I really miss seeing the kids at this time of year, so please excuse my rambling on about them. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

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Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Happy New Year and Merry Christmas to you too, Maki! After the time you spent in the hospital and dealing with the house renovations, 2011 must be better, right? :) (At least one of them will not be a condition anymore!) I look forward to my copy of Just Bento and thank you for all your intelligence, time and patience with this blog and justbento.
I wish you and the guy the best - is it "Joyeux Noel" in Provence?, and hope that you get to see your niece and nephew soon! I'm sure they miss their Aunt too.

lynh | 24 December, 2010 - 15:29

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

What a lovely post! The kids are *so* adorable, the pictures made me smile.
I hope you have a great Christmas! I'm just off to read your article about soba noodles.

Rachel | 24 December, 2010 - 18:42

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Sweet post about your beautiful, wonderful niece and nephew. I especially liked the picture with the proud grandmother in the background, so genuine and pure in that photo. thanks for sharing. best wishes for a happy, healthy new year!

anon. | 25 December, 2010 - 06:34

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Thank you for your most excellent blog. Wishes for a kind, gentle, happy, successful....well, you get the idea....2011. Joyeux Noel et bonne annee.

gilda92 | 25 December, 2010 - 17:05

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Your writing about your nephews is great,I'm an aunt too and I love my sister's children as you do!

marie | 26 December, 2010 - 13:19

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Lovely article Maki, your niece and nephew are so cute. I miss soba noodles in Japan. I got your book from my sister for Christmas (having dropped some heavy hints), so I'm very excited to get into that in the new year, now my kids are starting primary school. I've read most of it already, love it.

Katy | 27 December, 2010 - 01:13

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Cute! And indeed, well behaved, you are right to be proud of them. Kids running amok in restaurants can really ruin an evening out. One time it got so out of hand (a few kids had been running for 20 minutes and almost knocked over the waitress a few times) that my boyfriend actually asked their parents if they could reign them in. At that point the dad accused him of being a rude smartmouth... So it's nice to be reminded that this is not default child (and parent!!) behaviour.
Btw, your niece's name always reminds me of the song 'Lena-Lena', a catchy 80s tune.

kim | 27 December, 2010 - 12:15

Just Hungry | Japanese food! Authentic, mostly healthy Japanese

Please let me know if you're looking for a author for your site. You have some really good articles and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely love to write some content for your blog in exchange
for a link back to mine. Please send me an email if interested.

Thank you!

crap | 1 July, 2013 - 17:45

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Thanks for this simple and great recipe. I used green tea soba and was happy to find yuzu again in my local Japanese supermarket. In my view, it is the yuzu peel that absolutely makes this dish - with a supporting role from a dash of Shichimi-togarashi. The aftertaste was delicious.

Thomas | 4 January, 2011 - 11:42

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

I made this for myself a couple of days ago as per the recipe in the article, and really enjoyed it! I added a bit of tofu and an egg, as I needed more protein to make a full meal. Yum! I'll definitely be making this again. I didn't realize how easy dashi is to make, but from now on, I'll skip the granules and make it from scratch. Your niece and nephew are adorable, by the way; and your niece makes a great food model!

IngridH | 6 January, 2011 - 03:49
Annie | 14 January, 2011 - 01:52

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

I really like your post, great info on soba and lovely intro to your niece and nephew

Phu Nguyen | 14 January, 2011 - 19:30

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Hi Maki! I thought I would tell you that I've been reading your Japan Times food articles - but not in the Japan Times! I work for eikaiwa AEON, and they often come up in our suggested article list for our discussion classes. Someone at honbu must enjoy reading your articles. :)
It's fun to talk about food with students, but sometimes I wonder if I talk about it too much, because everyone knows it's my favourite topic...

anon. | 17 January, 2011 - 06:29

Re: Toshikoshi Soba (year-end soba) article in The Japan ...

Ah! As soon as I saw the Donarudo hat & the bus (did it have Mickey shaped windows? I'm betting it did!) I knew where they were visiting! :D I love how at Tokyo Disney you'll see parades of kids and big kids at heart wearing those adorable hats. Everyone dresses up it seems. I've seen little boys dressed in full Donald costumes with big puffy duck butts and little girls in full princess regalia (O-hime-sama!). It makes me so happy to see people having so much fun and putting so much thought into their outfits for an adventure to the park. Quite different from what I remember seeing at the American park. This time of year everyone seems to be leaning more towards holiday gear, as I've seen lots of people dressed up in Santa-esque clothing; from girls in little fur-rimmed capes and skirts to babies in full Santa costume (minus the beards), it's fantastic. Reminiscent of home but with an entirely Japanese twist. <3 How fun!

Jessica | 16 December, 2011 - 15:20

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