Let’s Talk Food: Happy New Year

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Kamaboko, or dish cake, with design.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Lotus root.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Red and green kamaboko.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Burdock root, or gobo.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Kazunoko, or herring roe.

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Kazunoko with seaweed.

Happy New Year! Today is one of the most important holidays to so many of us with Japanese roots.

New Year’s Eve started with my mother doing all the cooking so she did not have to cook on New Year’s Day.


Most folks eat “toshikoshi soba,” which is translated to “year crossing buckwheat noodles,” just before midnight New Year’s Eve, but we grew up going to 11:30 p.m. New Year’s service at church. As a kid, we would listen to the fireworks going off at midnight while sitting at church. We rushed home to light our fireworks, but it was usually after 12:30 a.m.

New Year’s Day starts with a hot bath to remove all the past years dirt from your body. My father would come home from work and clean all the screens and windows a few days before New Year’s Day. Like the symbolism of cleaning the old dirt from our body, the same is true for removing all the old dust from the screens and windows.

For breakfast we had a bowl of ozoni, or mochi soup. My mother made her broth with clams and added kombu dashi to create a flavorful broth. Then she added chopped mizuna and pieces of mochi that were fried.

Ozoni is very regional and also varies from family to family. In Tokyo and Osaka a clear fish broth is preferred; miso based ozoni is preferred in Kyoto and parts of Shikoku. Typical ingredients include chicken, some fish, shrimp, kamaboko, daikon and carrots cut like sakura flowers. Greens such as mitsuba or mizuna also are added.

A typical ozoni soup recipe would start with dashi stock. You can add whatever to create your family recipe.

Ozoni Soup

Serves: 4

3 cups dashi stock (made with two pieces kombu dashi and 1/2 cup katsuoboshi)

1 can kogai-ajitsuke clams, including juices

1/2 cup daikon radish, thinly cut and cut out into flower shapes

1/2 cup carrot, thinly cut and cut out into flower shapes

8 slices kamaboko

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sake

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 mochi

One bunch mizuna, washed well and coarsely chopped

Heat kombu dashi in a pot at medium heat, add clams, daikon, carrots and kamaboko. Cook until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, toast mochi in a dry frying pan until they expand and have browned.

Season soup with soy sauce, sake and salt. Add mizuna to cook, about 4 minutes.

In a soup bowl, place baked mochi and pour hot soup over.


On New Year’s Day, we had an edible centerpiece called “osechi-ryori,” with each food having an auspicious meaning.

We would place them in our three-layered lacquered container called a “jubako.” This was put together New Year’s Eve, as during the Heian Period (794-1185) it was believed no one should use a hearth nor cook a meal during the first three days of the year. The items in the osechi-ryori were preserved dishes that could be left out for three days.

Today, important dishes in the osechi-ryori are:

• Kuromame, or black beans, that symbolize good health.

• Kamaboko is available at KTA Super Stores. There are fancy ones from Japan with beautiful designs when cut as well the local Amano Fish Cake Factory kamaboko.

• Kazunoko, or salted herring roe, is a must, especially if you want lots of children or grandchildren.

• Kurikinton, or boiled sweet potatoes and chestnuts mashed together. The character for kinto literally means “group of gold,” so the golden color represents a wish for wealth and financial success in the new year.

• Nishime, or chicken stew, is a mixture of boiled vegetables such as carrots, gobo or burdock root, lotus root or renkon and taro or araimo.

• Kabu-no sunomono, or pickled julienne-cut baby turnips, is cut to look like chrysanthemum flowers. The chrysanthemum is the symbol of the emperor and is used to mark auspicious occasions.

• Ebi, or shrimp, is cooked with sake and soy sauce. Ebi symbolizes a long life; that you will live until your beard grows long and your waist bends. Instead of shrimp, you could use prawns or lobster.

• Tori no teriyaki, or grilled chicken in sweet soy sauce.

• Tai, or red seabream, symbolizes good luck, and the word “tai” is related to “medetai,” which means auspicious.

• Tazukuri, or seasoned baby anchovies, translated means “making rice fields” and symbolizes a bountiful harvest. These small fish can be purchased already prepared and ready to eat.

• Namasu, or shredded carrots and daikon seasoned with rice vinegar and sugar, represents happiness with the orange and white colors.

• Konbu, or seaweed, usually in the form of konbumaki, is similar to the word “yorokobu,” which means happiness and joy.

• Kinpira gobo, or shredded burdock root seasoned in soy sauce and sugar. The burdock roots grow deep in the soil and represents good health and harvest for the coming year.

• Datemaki is a sweet rolled omelet mixed with shrimp or surimi. The rolled omelet resembles a scroll, which means good luck in academics.

• Lotus root seasoned in rice vinegar and sugar. Lotus root with its many holes is a symbol of an unobstructed view of the future.

• Nimono is boiled mixed vegetables seasoned in soy sauce, sake and sugar, like oden.

No wonder the woman of the house did not cook for three days. That’s lots of work and a lot of food!


Happy New Year, and I hope you all have a prosperous 2019!

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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