A little bit obsessive. A little bit ritualistic. A little time honored family tradition is what my New Year’s boils down to, literally. Waiting 364 days to gulp down a soup very few people on this earth know how to make.
The traditions of my Japanese ancestry are wholesomely celebrated during the new year. And because the my Japanese ancestors immigrated to Hawaii generations ago, there is a touch of island flare to our festivities. Years ago, my entire family would gather at our house on Maui and help with the preparations. We would clean, we would cook, we would play, and we would pop fireworks.
It all begins on New Years Eve. First we clean. From ceiling to floor, until we we’re about to rub a hole into the floor. Tradition has it that cleaning the home will leave room for a fresh and clear mind for the new year.
Then we grocery shopped and cooked. As soon as I was able to hold a knife and cook on my own in the kitchen, my mom did not hesitate to bring me to the grocery store to speed up the shopping. Working our way down the floor length list of groceries, I fetched next few items off the shelf returning like a puppy and his ball.
Upon returning home, we started to prepare the ingredients. Operating in abundance during the new year, we made a smorgasbord of local family favorites from somen salad, steak, dry noodles, spare ribs, teriyaki meat, and blueberry cream cheese pie. But nothing compared to everyone’s anticipation of my mom’s ozoni soup – a chicken based soup filled with vegetables and eaten with grilled mochi (Japanese rice cakes) for good luck and prosperity.
It begins with soaking the mochi rice in a bowl large enough to bathe a baby and boiling an obscenely gigantic pot of chicken broth. Everyone had their part in preparing the soup – my brother cleaned the seafood, my dad cleaned the meat, my sister chopped the veggies, and my cousin and I (the two youngsters of the family) helped the adults roll, cut, and pack the mochi (mostly because we wanted to play with the leftover dough like it was putty)!
When all is said and done and the ingredients are added into the pot, there was nothing left to do but wait…until midnight. Boiling on the stove all day, the pitter patter of steam escaping the lid would tease everyone passing through the kitchen with a whiff of prosperity.
Finally, eight hours later we return to the house, hair and clothes smelling of gunpowder from popping fireworks with our uncles. It’s midnight and we cheers to the New Year with a glass of Martinelli’s Apple Cider for the youngsters and sake for everyone else. We hug, we toast, we wish each other the best to come.
All the while, my dad promptly pulls out a heavy flat cast iron pan, flicks the flame on the stove, and patiently waits for the oil to heat. I like to call him the mochi frying master. Always was, and always will be. He must have fried at least a thousand mochi in his lifetime since being introduced to this soup by my mom. He has the perfect touch to create the perfect brown and crispy on the outside, fluffy and gooey on the inside mochi.
Place a fried mochi on a bowl of steamy, golden ozoni and hear it *sizzle* *sizzle* *sizzle*. It’s music to my ears as I balance my way to my seat at the table. Once everyone has their bowl of soup, the chatter dies and it’s nothing but a symphony of slurping, clinking spoons and chopsticks, and delicious humming.
Our first bites of the New Year have been this good luck soup for as long as I can remember.
Ozoni’s origins date back to the samurai days in Japan and styles vary greatly across regions of Japan. However, in all the ozoni variations I have seen to date, none are remotely similar to the version my mom and Grandma passed down. I don’t say this out of bias, rather I have searched far and wide to learn how my late grandma’s version came about, but just can’t seem to trace it back to a specific place. But perhaps the magic lies in a different sort of origin I’m not used to looking for. And that’s when I finally realized…
Traditional family recipes are the essence of our loved ones and their legacy. It’s not where a recipe comes from that matters, it’s who it comes from that matters and nothing else.
Thank you Grandma A. and Mom for gifting our family with your legacy.