After Christmas, my family is ready for the holidays to end. By Dec. 26, we’ve had our fill of Christmas carols, tinsel, turkey, and most of all, family time. We heave a sigh of relief as we put away the Christmas china, dismantle the Christmas lights and recover from the craziness that is Christmas.
But the holidays aren’t really over for us — they’re just getting started. My whole family gets together once more on New Year’s Day to celebrate oshogatsu, or Japanese New Year. Oshogatsu is one of Japan’s most important holidays and typically includes traditions such as mochitsuki (preparing and pounding mochi rice cakes), osoji (cleaning one’s house) and lots and lots of cooking. Though oshogatsu typically lasts a full week in Japan, our family celebrates with one elaborate meal on New Years Day.
Being Japanese-American, my family serves a mix of traditional and non-traditional dishes. Osechi ryori are traditional prepared New Year’s foods served in a lacquered box. Each dish in the osechi has special meaning and is supposed to bring good luck in the New Year. Kuromame, candied black beans and chestnuts covered in syrup, are for good health. Kurikinton, mashed sweet lima beans, represents wealth because of its golden color. Kamaboko, savory fish cakes, are included for their lovely design, which typically features a cherry blossom or floral arrangement. We also serve sushi and a passion fruit cake for dessert, both non-traditional additions that make our meal special and memorable every year.
Chicken soup for the Japanese soul
The main event of the meal, though, is ozoni. Ozoni, a chicken soup made with mochi rice cakes, is only eaten on New Year’s Day. Each family makes its own version according to the region of Japan they are from.
My mom’s side of the family is from Kyushu province, and our ozoni is very hearty and filled with lots of Japanese vegetables. Big chunks of daikon, Japanese radishes, and sato imo, small starchy Japanese potatoes, add rusticity to the soup. Gobo, a long, twig-like root vegetable, gives a pleasantly earthy and nutty flavor, despite its unappetizing appearance.
Every year, my mom makes a huge pot of ozoni that my family devours. My uncle and grandpa have contests to see who can eat the most mochis, glutinous Japanese rice cakes served piping hot in the soup. My favorite part of the dish is the broth itself, which is traditionally made with Dashi no moto, a soup stock base of dried bonito fish flakes and kelp. Soothing, soulful and satisfying, the broth tastes like New Year’s Day to me and gives me the strength and serenity to face another year.
- Prepare 5 cups of dashi no moto stock according to package instructions. My mom uses Hime brand dashi no moto, which uses 3 cups of water and 1 bag of dashi.
- Bring the stock to a boil. Add the chicken breast and cook until the meat falls off the bone. Remove the chicken breast and let it cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred the chicken and set aside.
- Keep stock at a rapid simmer. Skim froth from the top of the broth.
- Add the daikon, carrots, shitake mushrooms and sato imo to the broth. Cook until the vegetables are tender and the daikon looks opaque, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the gobo, mochi, and the napa stems (white parts) to the broth. When the mochi float to the top, they are ready. Add the napa leaves at last minute and cook until wilted.
- Add shoyu and salt to taste.
- Serve the soup, along with one mochi, in each bowl.
Mackie Jimbo is a Philadelphia-based food writer who writes about her budget-friendly dining adventures at her website, The Unpaid Gourmet.