First of all, I’m giving away a copy of my Japanese cookbook. Read on!
There’s only hours left before the start of a new year, and I’m doing all I can to catch my breath as I come down from the holiday frenzy of the past few weeks. I’m exhausted and looking forward to a quieter, fresher, newer beginning. The crazy pace between Thanksgiving and Christmas in America is a vast contrast to Japan – there, Christmas is but a token holiday when people eat Christmas Cake but plug along at work in anticipation of a big bonus. The real big holiday in Japan is New Year’s, and much work and excitement lead up to that. I remember as a child counting the days to New Year’s, my mouth watering in anticipation of sticky, chewy mochi.
In some ways, it seems like a saner approach. Here, we party all night and start the New Year wasted. Compared to us, the Japanese New Year’s is practically a spiritual experience, despite the fact that they are probably the least religious people on the planet. It starts on New Year’s Eve with a a bowl of noodles, which gurantees longevity. Then everyone gets bundled up and sets out for “hatsumode,” or the first (and in most cases, the only) visit to a shrine or temple, just past midnight. You might visit even a few, and do your best not to confuse which rituals to perform at a temple versus a shrine (a temple is Buddhist, a shrine, Shinto). Trains run all night long. There are crowds everywhere, young and old. This is probably going to be the only time you’ll offer a prayer all year, but at least it’s done at an auspicious time.
New Year’s Day is a blast. Housewives actually spend days preparing the feast, and there is indeed a bounty, especially dishes with mochi, or o-mochi in Japanese. O-mochi is pounded rice cake, and unlike in the US where you can get different flavors, there’s only one kind there: plain. But it’s what you do with it that’s so special. First and foremost is o-zoni, a soup or stew made with o-mochi. A favorite way of eating for kids is mochi that’s grilled until it puffs up and crispens, then coated in soy sauce and wrapped in nori. Mmmm. Makes me hungry just thinking of it, and luckily, I only have to wait until tomorrow to eat it.
The day is spent eating, drinking sake, visiting friends and relatives. In fact, all of Japan shuts down for the first few days, and the celebration just continues — you just keep on eating, drinking, visiting. My daughter always talks about the 12 days of Christmas, but it generally doesn’t last more than a day. In Japan, sometimes New Year’s trickles out for almost all of January.
If you want my book, comment below about how you plan to start your New Year. Get your plans or resolutions in by January 7 (that’s generous!) and then I’ll announce the winner. Today, I offer a simple recipe for a bowl of warming noodles, and wish you readers all a long life. I provide below the guidelines to a good bowl of noodles, which starts with a good homemade broth. Otherwise, the recipe is as flexible as you like. You can top it with almost anything, although tempura, wakame, abura-age (fried tofu), and a few non-vegan items I won’t mention, are traditional. It’s a 15 minute recipe, although you’ll need a couple of hours for soaking. Easy, and guaranteed to lengthen your life.
Tomorrow, as I won’t be partying all night, I’ll post about o-zoni.
Japanese Udon for Long Life (serves 4)
|Udon with broccoli rabe sauteed in sesame oil
and seasoned with soy sauce
First, prepare the broth (tsuyu) by soaking for 2 hours or more:
4 cups water
1 3″ x 5″ piece of konbu (a type of seaweed)
1/4 cup smoked dulse (optional)
10 dried shiitake
Bring this to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes, then strain. Discard the konbu an dulse. Slice the shiitake thinly and add put in a pot along with the broth. Add the following:
2 – 4 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sake
You can use this broth over Japanese soba (buckwheat noodles) or udon (fat, wheat noodles). Both are generally available either dried or refrigerated. If using dried, you’ll have to boil them according to package instructions, just as you would dried pasta. If using the refrigerated, pre-cooked kind, you can cut corners and just put them directly into the simmering broth until hot. Top with any of the following ingredients and serve piping hot. If you like a little bit of spice, sprinkle on some shichimi togarashi, a spice blend of seven different peppers, available at Asian grocery stores.
Vegetable Tempura (there’s a great recipe for this in my book)
Wakame, soaked in water until reconstituted
Sauteed veggies or mushrooms
Baked tofu, sliced
|Udon with Wakame|