Japanese Street Food: Tachigui Soba!

tachigui02What’s better than slurping hot soba noodles when you’re out in the cold? Slurping them when they’re hot, fresh, cheap and at a tachigui-style restaurant!

Tachigui, which means “eating standing up”, is a popular style of eating in Japan, especially for quick meals while traveling, commuting or going out for the evening. Tachigui-style eating was first introduced in what is now Tokyo during the Edo Period (1603-1868). During that time, restaurant owners catered to laborers and working class people who needed inexpensive yet nutritious, fresh and flavorful food… the perfect setting for serving soba noodles in soup broth. To minimize costs for space and service, tachigui shops offered standing areas for people to just eat and go.

This style of eating spread across Japan and in modern day cities, tachigui-style restaurants can be found in close proximity to rail stations and commuter areas. Soba noodles in hot soup broth are still the most popular dishes served at tachigui restaurants, but hungry people can also find sushi, barbeque and takoyaki at tachigui stalls.

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Customers eat at a tachigui soba shop in a train station (photo by Nesnad)

Dining at tachigui restaurants is an experience. Since many are located at or near train stations, they offer only counter space for diners. Diners purchase meal tickets called shokken for the type of dish they want from vending machines located at the stall. Meals range from the barebones noodles and soup to various toppings such as tempura, kakiage, eggs, fish cake and more. Once a diner purchases a ticket, they hand that to the server, and wait a few minutes for their bowl to be delivered. Tea and condiments are served freely on the counter.

Meals are inexpensive yet incredibly fresh. Soba noodles are parboiled and freshened before being served to patrons. Basic soba soups start at around 250 yen or $2.50 and soups with many toppings won’t cost more than 500-700 yen or $5.00-7.00. Regardless of price, people from all walks of life and economic circumstances eat at tachigui stalls.

Soba noodles are the perfect dish for a cold December going into the New Year and whether you’re eating tachigui-style soba noodles or toshikoshi soba, we hope you stay warm and have a great New Year!

Deliberate Customs:  Tradition of Toshikoshi Soba

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“May you live a long, thin life.”

As 2015 comes to an end, we hope you have a moment to be a part of the quintessentially Japanese tradition of enjoying toshikoshi soba on New Year’s Eve. For hundreds of years, Japanese families have shared this tradition as part of a year-end festivities. Toshikoshi means “jump from the old year to the new”. In the days leading up to the end of the year, families clean their homes from top to bottom, sweeping out the old and worn and stale to make room for a fresh and clean new year. Business dealings are finalized, loose ends tied and financial matters are settled. And, in between parties and revelry, families gather at home on the final day of the year to be close, enjoy a warm bowl of thin buckwheat soba noodles in broth, watch TV together and reflect, listening to the sounds of the bells from Shinto shrines ringing 108 times, banishing the traditional 108 evils.

According to Japanese tradition, eating toshikoshi soba noodles on New Year’s Eve is rooted in legend. One story says that the tradition began during the 13th or 14th centuries during the Kamakura or Muromachi periods, when wealthy feudal lords would feed their citizens the last meal of the year to represent their power and strength. Another legend states that eating toshikoshi soba began during the Edo period in what is now Tokyo. During that time, the merchant class began eating soba noodles that were made with the same type of fine soba flour used by goldsmiths to gather leftover gold dust. Eating soba noodles made from the same type of flour signified wealth and prosperity. Eating toshikoshi soba at the end of the year symbolized strength and resiliency, as the buckwheat plant would survive rain and wind. The thin noodles were also thought to represent a long life and the ease with which they were eaten represented the ease of cutting off troubles from the past year.

Regardless of the basis of the tradition, sharing a bowl of soba noodles is a treasured experience, full of comfort and warmth.

As the New Year approaches, we wish everyone a “long, thin life… full of good fortune and peace.” Happy 2016!