Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Korea: Snowy Japanese-Style New Year 2013

Greetings from snowy Seoul where the high temperature struggles to climb out of the 20s...

I am happy to say that we managed to celebrate shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, with almost all traditions intact. New Year is the most important holiday of the year for us Japanese people and I was a bit worried that I'd not be able to observe all of my little rituals this year. However, I am satisfied that I got most of what was necessary in.

Yesterday I scrounged around the compound and found pine and bamboo for my kadomatsu, the ornament that sits next to the front door over the new year. Bamboo signifies resilience and pine is for longevity. It may not be the most beautiful kadomatsu ever, but it gets the job done, especially with Musashi guarding it from inside the window.

As is New Year Eve tradition, the house was spotlessly cleaned yesterday (note the usage of passive voice that does not specify it was me doing the cleaning) enabling us to start the 2013 in neat, calm surroundings. I set up my kagami mochi display over the fireplace, next to a kagami mochi banner I found in Kyoto last month. The hanging under the kagami mochi display symbolizes prosperity. Note the red fish. This is a traditional symbol of wealth in the coming year. You are also supposed to eat red fish at new year.

Mochi, cakes made from pounded sweet rice, are probably the most important new year food and as such, they grace the central New Year ornament.

 Just as the old year gave way to the new, we ate our cold soba noodles for long life and drank our sake shots.

This morning brought more snow. New Year's Day morning is supposed to begin with a simple meal of ozoni soup. However, before I could get it going my neighbor came over to ask if she could borrow Musashi to help pull her kids in their sled. She also has two Siberian Huskies and with her extra harness away they all went. Mei Ping hung out with me, although she seemed to want to join in the fun.

The ozoni was perfect after the morning's outdoor activity. I am not sure why we eat ozoni, I only know it is probably the most important of New Year foods. Every family has their own recipe and version, the only constant being the presence of grilled mochi.

Mine is a simple chicken soup with mushrooms and a leafy greens. For some reason, this year's soup was especially delicious.

After the ozoni, I usually eat kinako mochi for dessert. This is a piece of mochi sauteed in butter and then smothered in kinako (powdered roasted soy beans) mixed with sugar. Chewy and delicious as always.

I also made two types of sweet mochi dishes with mochiko, or sweet rice flour. The first is made with brown sugar and coconut milk. It is called gao and it is a traditional Chinese New Year dessert that we have co-opted.

The second, butter mochi, is more decadent, less traditional, and definitely very popular. It is like eating a super sticky vanilla brownie.

Mochi is actually an excellent dessert to serve to someone who is gluten intolerant because sweet rice flour is naturally gluten free so there is no replacing ingredients. It comes out exactly as it is intended, sticky, chewy, delicious. Mochiko, or sweet rice flour, is available at most Asian markets as well as on Amazon.

Butter Mochi

2 1/2 cups mochiko (also called sweet rice flour)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp baking powder
3 cups milk
1 Tbsp vanilla

Blend together butter, sugar and eggs. Add mochiko and baking powder and mix well. Add milk and vanilla. Mix batter until smooth. Pour into buttered and floured 9 x 13 pan and bake for 350 degrees for one hour.


4 cups mochiko (also called sweet rice flour)
1 Tbsp baking soda
2 cups brown sugar
2 1/2 cups milk
1 12 oz can of coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla.

Blend all ingredients until smooth and pour into an ungreased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

And now, as we are supposed to, we are going to relax for the rest of the day.

I hope that everyone has a healthy and prosperous New Year.


  1. Wishing you a wonderful 2013. I bet the dogs enjoyed the snow.

    I loved reading about Japanese New Year traditions.

  2. Enjoyed reading this! I remember the delicious Gao from my visit. I must try it at home.