New Year’s food

The last three days have pretty much been filled with eating. Because, New Year’s food.

正月 (Oshogatsu) — the Japanese New Year — is the biggest holiday of the year, and of course there are rituals, traditions, and special food.  The holiday generally runs from December 31st to January 3rd, with most people spending time with family and often visiting shrines/temples.

On New Year’s Eve, it’s traditional to eat toshikoshi (New Year’s) soba (buckwheat noodles) for health and long life. We had ours with tsuyu (dashi stock), nagaimo (grated sticky yam/potato), and green onions.

Red/orange/yellow/gold foods are central to New Year’s cuisine, as shown in the photos below, all for good luck! Osechi refers to traditional New Year’s food served in stacked boxes. The style of food dates back more than 1000 years, with the idea being to preserve food to avoid cooking over the turn of the year (which I fully support). We’ve been in Japan for New Year’s before and have eaten many of the traditional dishes, but this was the first time we ordered osechi. I really enjoyed many of the items, but by design, much of it is pretty sweet or salty, so it’s definitely possible to stray into excess. We rather regretted having so much despite sharing it with family, so we’ll have to find some more people to share with next year, plus plan to eat more salad alongside.

For more descriptions of the specific food and their meanings, see Savvy Tokyo or Wikipedia.

Mochi, or sticky rice pounded into little cakes, is also central to New Year’s cuisine. There are several mochi items in the osechi boxes seen above. We also went to a mochi-tsuki, or mochi-making, in Yokohama. It was fun to see the rice being steamed and then pounded with huge mallets. Kids also got to line up and have a go with the mallet. And of course, eating it was the best!

Cooking the rice
Cooking the rice
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Mochi with kinako (soy bean powder) and anko (sweet red bean paste) respectively

(With the sounds of the kids’ mochi-making in the background)

Random grocery store pics

So yeah, sometimes I like taking photos at the grocery store. Here are a few.

Chrysanthemums

Did you know you could eat chrysanthemums (kiku-no-hana)? They have a very light taste, reminiscent of baby spinach.

Here’s how we ate them:

Buy from the store.

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Take out of the package.

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Pluck the petals and rinse.

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Boil briefly (like a minute) and dress with soy sauce or some other kind of stock. Accompanied here with spinach and shimeji mushrooms.

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Yum!

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Mushrooms

One of the best things about autumn in Japan: MUSHROOMS. Here’s what they look like in their glory, displayed in the grocery store.

They all have different qualities. Enoki are thin, like eating noodles, good for a hotpot (nabe) or soup. Shiitake are versatile, but gorgeous when they’re just grilled and eaten with a bit of soy sauce. Maitake are my favourite currently, also good for a hotpot, thin but still firm. Shimeji are excellent in a stir fry, as are eringi. So many options…

Kabu

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Kabu, or Japanese turnips, are a lovely cold weather food. The greens are very tasty (spinach like), and the white turnip bulbs are soft and juicy when cooked. I often put them in miso soup or saute them with sesame oil (shown here with fried tofu sheets added as well).

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Persimmons

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I don’t recall ever eating persimmon before coming to Japan, but it is high on my list of favourite autumn foods. They are currently cheap and abundant in the grocery stores: yay.

There are different varieties of persimmon, but I like the kind that are not too juicy but still as soft as a mango.

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Persimmons are also an interesting case for language learners, as homonyms (and near homonyms) abound in Japanese. A persimmon is 柿 and an oyster is 牡蠣. Both are pronounced kaki, but when you’re saying oyster, the first syllable has a higher pitch / more stress. Persimmon is the opposite, as pronounced below. (I always get it wrong.)

 

Shinmai: new rice

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Our first shinmai of the year

We’re deep into autumn now, and it’s high time that I blog about fall food.

Like many (most?) countries, Japan has food imported from all over the world, out of whack with the seasons (e.g., we had an avocado from Mexico for dinner). However, overall, people tend to choose, and indeed celebrate, foods that are local and in season. And autumn is the best season of all: sweet potatoes, kabocha (pumpkin / squash), persimmons, apples, late season greens, MUSHROOMS, and more. I want to write a few blog posts about the food glories of fall, and first up is rice.

Shinmai, or new rice, appears in stores in autumn, and is designated as such if it is sold in the same year that it was harvested.

We have acquired some lovely shinmai, and it really is different from “regular” rice. Because of the freshness, the moisture content is different. It needs a little bit less water when cooking, but it becomes more plump, shiny, and mochi mochi (chewy) than other rice. Very delicious.

The author of the Just Hungry blog (which I often reference) wrote an interesting article about shinmai in the Japan Times a while back, with more details about how best to enjoy it, entitled “not all white rice tastes the same“. So true.

Halloween drinks

Halloween is quite popular in Japan, which is apparently a relatively recent phenomenon. The merchandise is out in full force now after a humbler start back in August. Below are two Halloween-themed beverages that I hadn’t seen before: spooky-label cabernet sauvignon and zombie blood soda.

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