Taste of Japan: Start the year off with a Japanese tradition

Photos by Shoji Kudaka
Photos by Shoji Kudaka

Taste of Japan: Start the year off with a Japanese tradition

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Japan

Although there are many “good luck foods” for the new year in this world, the majority of locals in Okinawa have only one thing in their mind New Year’s Eve: Okinawa soba.
Dec. 31 is a day for “soba joogoo,” which means soba lovers/maniacs in Okinawan dialect. It is a day when a “soba joogoo” like myself can eat as much as possible without feeling guilty, because you eat for good luck.
Since the local noodle is one the most common menu items at local eateries, and there are so many guidebooks and websites dedicated to the best soba restaurants on the island, finding a place to eat soba on Dec. 31 shouldn’t be a problem.

Better yet, for those planning on having a New Years’ Eve party at home, or just in the mood a hands-on experience, you can try cooking your own Okinawa soba.

For many Okinawans, soba made at home is just as popular as it is in restaurants, and especially so on Dec. 31. Local supermarkets are flooded with people planning to serve the good luck food to their families. And although it takes time and effort to prepare, Okinawans are more than willing, because having homemade Okinawa soba on New Year’s Eve is part of the family bond. Homemade Okinawa soba is to Okinawans what homemade pasta to Italian families. Each family on Okinawa has its own flavor and style of soba. Some prefer pig bone as opposed to bonito flake-broth. Or some may chose thick and straight noodles over thin and twisted. And when it comes to toppings, anything goes.

Although Okinawa soba looks like a simple dish on the outside, there is a good variety and depth to it that you can play with. There is no one golden recipe. But I would like to share a recipe I learned from my mother. I hope it will give you some ideas. (Please note that the recipe is for a family of three.)

Ingredients: pork loin (1 block, 227g), pork picnic (1 block, 321g), pork belly (1 block, 393g), raw noodles (3 bags), minced and steamed fish, green onion, ginger, red pickled ginger, soy sauce, sweet cooking rice wine and cooking sake.

1. Fill two pots with water.

2. Put pork loin and pork picnic in one of them and heat it up on a stove for about 50 minutes.

3. Roast the pork belly skin on a grill. When it’s lightly burnt, take off the stove.

4. Shave the skin with a razor to remove fuzzy hair.

5. Put the pork belly in the other pot and heat it on a stove for about 50 minutes.

6. While heating up the two pots, skim off foam and cover the pots with a lid, but leave a small gap to let heated air out.

7. From time to time, check on the softness of the port loin and belly by piercing with a stick.

8. After about 50 minutes, take out the pork loin, picnic and belly from the pot and cut them into small pieces. Leave the broth of pork loin and picnic in the pot, and dump the broth of pork belly (or put it in another pot or bowl).

9. Put the pieces back in one of the pot which was previously used for heating up pork bellies.

10. Pour sweet cooking rice wine, soy sauce, and cooking sake in the pot. For each condiment, make two circles around the pot as you pour. (The amount of condiment is up to individual’s preference.)

11. Cover the pot with a lid and heat on a stove about 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure you stop before the liquid dries up in the pan. Sample the taste and add sugar if you prefer to make it taste sweeter.

12. Put two handfuls of dried bonito flakes in the broth left in the pot for pork loin and picnic, and heat on a stove. When the broth comes to a boil, take the pot off the stove and strain the broth with a net.

13. Put the broth back in the pot.

14. Wash the soba noodles in hot water.

15. Heat up the broth, and combine with noodles, pork loin and bellies. Top the soba noodles with grated ginger, red ginger, sliced green onion, and Kooree Goose (Awamori liquor flavor with hot chili).
16. Enjoy a tasty meal and good luck for the new year!

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