Ozoni or zoni (雑 煮) is a special soup made with mochi (rice cake) traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day in Japan.
What is the etymology of zoni (ozoni)?
Zoni in Japanese 雑煮 is a combination of two characters. The first character 雑 means “miscellaneous” or “mixed” and the second character 煮 means “simmer”. It is believed that this word coined as zoni consists of a variety of miscellaneous ingredients boiled together. The ingredients that go in the dish depend on the regional produce.
What is the origin of ozoni?
Ozoni has been in existence since ancient times. Ozoni was originally known as hōzō, which also translates to something that is simmered.
The first written record of the dish appeared in the family records of the Suzuka family of samurais, the Muromachi period around 1300 – 1500 BC. This dish is rooted in the Samurai cuisine and it was cooked during the battle fields with mochi, vegetables, seafood and other available ingredients.
During the Samurai period, it was served as snacks along with liquor and was considered a lucky dish to start off the New year.
This practice continued down the years and now, ozoni is a Japanese staple and a very important part of new year celebration meal. Ozoni is a part of Osechi-ryori, a set of traditional Japanese foods consumed during Japanese New Year. They are usually served in Jūbako, tiered boxes similar to bento boxes and each dish in that box have a special significance and meaning.
What are the variants of ozoni?
Ozoni differs from region to region and there are so many variations across Japan with subtle flavor differences. The mani differences lie in the type of soup made and the mochi. Mochi is the common ingredient that is used in every ozoni preparation. The way it is used in the ozoni soup differs from region to region.
What is mochi?
Mochi is a popular Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice called mochigome, water, sugar and starch. It is made by mashing and pounding steamed rice and the ceremony of pounding mochi is known as mochitsuki.
Mochi, also known as rice cakes, are originally offered to Gods and are mostly used in Buddhist rituals. During the Edo period, mochi became a part of new year celebration.
You can either use round or square shaped mochi in ozoni. Once again, this depends on where you are in Japan. In Kansai, Chugoku and Shikoku regions, round mochi is preferred while in the Kanto region square ones are used. If you are using the latter, it is usually grilled on an open fire and then added in the soup.
A prevalent theory for using square shaped mochi is that it was easier to mass produce. In the Edo period, Kanto and the surrounding regions were densely populated and it was difficult to meet the demand of making round mochi for the masses. Hence square shape was preferred as it was easy and quick to shape.
What type of soup is used for ozoni?
Broadly there are two types of soup used in ozoni preparation. One is the clear soup variety known as sumashi-jiru made in the Kanto regions. A clear soup made from the stock of kombu (kelp) and dashi (fish broth) is used in the preparation.
Sometimes broths from squid, flying fish, pufferfish, salted salmon, dried shrimp, and other fish and seafood are used to prepare the soup. In East Japan, ozoni has square shaped grilled mochi known as kakumochi with a clear soup base.
Miso based soup is also used in preparing ozoni. In the Kansai region, white miso soup and round shaped mochi known as marumochi are used in the preparation. The round shape symbolizes good luck in these regions and hence all the ingredients used are shaped round.
In Eastern Japan, azukijiru, or red bean paste soup is also made though this version is not as prevalent.
Side ingredients used in ozoni also depend on the availability of local produce. Along the coastal areas, seafood and shiitake mushrooms are prominent whereas in the mainland, daikon radish and carrots and other fresh produce are common.
Each ingredient in the ozoni soup has a meaning. It is believed that mochi represents longevity and well-being due to its stretchy texture, whereas the local produce represents the abundance of harvest. Hence it is considered auspicious to have this on New Year’s day (ogatshu). Ozoni is eaten in the morning of the first three days of the new year.
- 3 cups dashi fish broth
- 3 tablespoons very finely sliced daikon radish
- 1 carrot very finely sliced
- 8 slices kamaboko Japanese surimi
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 8 mochi rice cake
- 4 sprigs mitsuba roughly chopped (Japanese parsley)
- Heat the dashi in a saucepan on medium heat and add the daikon radish, carrot and kamaboko.
- Cook until the vegetables are tender (about 10 minutes).
- Meanwhile, cook the mochi in the oven for about 5 minutes.
- In a soup bowl, place the mochi and pour the hot soup, then sprinkle with mitsuba.