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What is Ozoni, Japan’s Traditional Soup that Ushers in the New Year?

In Japan, people eat a traditional dish called “ozoni” at the start of a new year. The ingredients and flavors of this soup may vary depending on the region, but read on to capture the charms of Ozoni, which is abundant in local colors!

What is Ozoni?

Ozoni is a dish made to celebrate a new year. It is eaten on the first three days of the brand-new year (January 1 – 3). A soup cooked with mochi (rice cake) – the main ingredient – and various other ingredients, it comes in different styles depending on the region and household.

History

Ozoni has apparently been around as a New Year’s soup since around the Muromachi era (1300 – 1500), but at that time, it served as a snack to go along with alcohol, and was eaten first at banquets for samurai warriors. It is a dish believed to bring good luck and was the first thing consumed at any gathering. This was what seems to have kick-started the tradition of eating this soup at the beginning of the year.

Why is it Eaten on New Year's?

Starting the year by cooking in a single pot, and then eating the mochi and local produce that were offered to deities on New Year’s Eve, is done to pray for several things: Safety for the entire year, good living, and nature’s blessings.

Types of Soup

There are various kinds of soup, which is the base for ozoni, in each region and household in Japan. For instance, many Japanese people use sumashi-jiru (clear soup) that is made from the soup stock of kombu (kelp) and other ingredients. They also use shiromiso and dashi (light brown miso and soup stock) soup in their ozoni. Some even make soup broths from squid, flying fish, pufferfish, salted salmon, dried shrimp, and other fish and seafood.

Various Ingredients of Ozoni

The ingredients put in ozoni vary widely depending on the region and other factors. Mochi is the main ingredient, so it is always included, but the differences could be huge when it comes to the other ingredients used, such as grilled and boiled ingredients, as well as square and round ingredients. Many use the local produce of their areas to accompany the mochi, with vegetables, chicken, seafood and fish paste products serving as their main ingredients. For instance, some combine chicken, shrimp and kamaboko (steamed and seasoned fish paste) with radish, carrots and other ingredients.

Ozoni in Every Region

Below is an introduction on the typical ozoni in each part of Japan.

Eastern Japan

Hokkaido-style
The mochi is grilled, and the soup is sumashi-jiru. Meanwhile, the ingredients in the ozoni include slices of salmon, carrots, and shiitake mushrooms, sprinkled with ikura (salted salmon roe) and mitsuba (Japanese parsley).

Tohoku-style
As an example, in Iwate, they use sumashi-jiru, and the ozoni has sansai (edible wild plants), daikon (Japanese radish), carrots, gobo (burdock) and other ingredients. Furthermore, the grilled mochi is eaten with sauce made from walnuts.

Tokyo-style
The mochi is grilled square mochi, and the soup is sumashi-jiru. Some of the ingredients in the ozoni are chicken, komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach) and kamaboko.

Tohoku-style Ozoni

Western Japan

Kyoto-style
The mochi is boiled round mochi, and the soup is light brown miso-based soup. The ingredients in the dish are yatsugashira (a type of taro), daikon, grilled tofu and slices of salted buri (Japanese amberjack).

Nara-style
In Yoshino-gun, the soup is light brown miso-based soup, and the ingredients include taro, carrots, and daikon. The round mochi is eaten with the accompanying kinako (soybean flour) on the side.

Hiroshima-style
The mochi is round mochi, and the soup is sumashi-jiru. Some of the ingredients in the dish are Hiroshima’s specialty oysters and vegetables like carrots.

Kagawa-style
The mochi is round mochi, and the soup is light brown miso-based soup. The ingredients in the dish are carrots, daikon, aonori (green dried seaweed) and so on. The main characteristic of this dish is that the mochi has azuki bean paste inside.

Fukuoka-style
The mochi is round mochi, and the soup is sumashi-jiru that uses flying fish. The ingredients of the dish include salted buri, shiitake mushrooms and taro.

Nara-style Ozoni

Kagawa-style Ozoni

How to Make Tokyo-Style Ozoni

Finally, here is a simple explanation on how to make Tokyo-style ozoni. First, make the clear sumashi-jiru from kombu and katsuo-bushi (small slices of dried bonito). For the ingredients, use slices of chicken and duck, kamaboko and green vegetables (komatsuna, spinach, and so on). As for the mochi, which is the main ingredient, grill sliced mochi pieces until they are fragrant, and then put them inside the soup. Note that when they are boiled, the mochi will fall apart and the soup will become cloudy. Many seem to finish this dish by garnishing it with thinly shredded yuzu (citrus), finely sliced nori (dried seaweed) and mitsuba. Tokyo’s version is said to be relatively simple and light in taste compared to all the other kinds made throughout Japan.

You can eat ozoni in ryokans (Japanese-style inns) if you happen to stay in one during the New Year holiday season. You can also eat this dish at cafes and other establishments throughout the country. So, if you ever visit Japan, make sure to try this dish!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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