While many osechi ryōri (traditional New Year’s dishes) are not exactly adored by a lot of people, there is one simple meal that seems universally loved: toshikoshi soba.
Awkwardly translated to “year-crossing soba,” the toshikoshi variety is eaten at family dinners when the new year comes around. The length of the noodles act as an omen promising a long life, and the fact that the dish can be made and eaten within minutes makes it the ideal instant meal.
Futaba is one of the most renowned soba restaurants in Nagoya and even though it isn’t open for the stroke of midnight, it’s still open during the day on New Year’s Eve. This holiday is also one of the restaurant’s busiest times.
Futaba seats just 24 people, with two tables on tatami mats for larger families, and several smaller tables squeezed into a small and homey space. When dining there, it becomes evident that everything is handmade; the noodles are slightly rough around the edges and not uniformly identical in shape and length, which really adds to a sense of handicraft.
The menu is soba-centric, of course, but there is a wide selection of starters and side dishes to choose from before getting to the main meal — sides that include soba miso yaki (soba noodles fried with miso sauce, ¥400) and dashi maki tamago (egg fried in broth, ¥550) — which are all just large enough to whet the appetite ahead of the noodles, of which there is a long list to choose from.
Whether you like your noodles hot or cold, with meat, fish or vegetables, or just plain besides chopped green onions and sobatsuyu (buckwheat soup), there is a set for everyone scattered among the 10 on offer. Futaba’s tempura soba (¥1,450) comes with shrimp, green peppers, mushrooms, pumpkin, sweet potato and eggplant, while its tororo soba (soba with ground yam paste, ¥1,050) is a very popular choice. For most of the meals, the noodles are dipped in a broth that is at best lukewarm. Those looking for a hot meal can opt for the duck soba (¥1,350), which has a small, piping-hot duck stew in place of the traditional soup. The stew is filled with duck tsukune (meatballs) and steak, and is gorgeously thick — its rich taste compliments the simplicity of the noodles perfectly.
There are no desserts on offer, but those looking for a drink can opt for beer, both bottled (¥600) and draft (¥500), as well as a select choice of ume-shu (plum wine), all of which are ¥500 and can be drunk with water, ice or straight up. Their most revered selection, unsurprisingly, is their soba shochū (liquor), of which there are just two: one at ¥500 a glass, the other at ¥700. Although shochū is not ideal for the uninitiated (its potency can make different brands seem indistinguishable from one another), for those in the know, Futaba has gone out of its way to choose a drink that compliments the menu.
An extremely friendly and welcoming restaurant, Futaba may have a limited selection, but it has charm in abundance and arguably the best soba in the city.
1-2-13 Meieki Minami, Nishi-ku, Nagoya, Aichi Pref.; 052-522-5660; open 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 6-9 p.m. (closed Wed. and Thurs.); nearest station Sengencho; no smoking (lunchtime only); ¥4,000 per head (plus drinks); English menu; no English spoken.