Delicious Eats & a Taste of the Rice Pounding Ceremony – Part 2 of Our New Year’s Series

UPDATE 1/10/14: Due to extreme flooding Oshogatsu has been postponed until Sunday, January 19, 2014. If you have already purchased tickets you will receive an email with details about your purchase. Otherwise, you may still purchase tickets online until Friday, January 17th at noon. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope to see you all there next Sunday!

 

With Part 2 of our New Year’s Blog series we want to talk about one of our favorite parts of any celebration – you guessed it – the food. Food plays an important part in celebrating the Japanese New Year; from Mochitsuki, rice-pounding to make mochi cakes, to special New Year’s eats, there’s a lot to taste and try when you visit us during Oshogatsu.

NEW YEAR’S FOODS

There are a few foods that are important symbols of good luck and happiness for the New Year. These special New Year’s foods are called osechi-ryori, and are traditionally packed in layered lacquer boxes called jubako, which are similar to bento boxes. The dish depends on the area, but some common dishes include kuromame (simmered black soy beans), kurikinton (mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnuts), tazukuri (candied dried sardines), renkon (lotus roots) and shrimp.

Each dish and ingredient holds meaning. Some dishes are said to bring good health, others a good harvest, happiness, prosperity, longevity, etc. Traditionally, yellow dishes and ingredients such as kazunoko (herring roe) symbolize prosperity, while mame (beans) are for good health. Usually, people make osechi dishes by New Year’s Eve to last through the first few days of the year so that they won’t have to cook during the celebration days.

At Morikami we’ll serve our own take on a few of these New Year’s flavors, as well as traditional mochi cakes straight from our the rice pounding ceremony. (We’ll also serve a few familiar American festival favorites.) No matter what, there will be plenty to taste!

NEW YEAR’S EATS AT OSHOGATSU

This year, as a special treat, the Cornell Café will serve a dish called chirashizushi. Traditionally, this is a festive dish served on special occasions, and loosely translates to “scattered sushi.” Ours includes tuna and salmon sashimi with shrimp, snow peas, carrots and a symbol of longevity in the new year – an origami crane. On festival grounds we’ll offer some other New Year’s eats like soba noodles and coconut shrimp!

Soba is a traditional noodle dish, made from buckwheat noodles in a hot soup, and symbolizes wishes for good luck in the year ahead. Shrimp is also an important symbolic food for New Year’s and is believed to promote longevity. Some say this is because shrimp have curved backs like the very elderly. Check out our food page as the event gets closer for more on what we’ll be serving up as well as full menus.

THE RICE POUNDING CEREMONY

Mochitsuki—the rice pounding ceremony – is essential to Oshogatsu, and is one of our favorite parts of the festivities. Traditionally, mochitsuki begins the day before by soaking the mochigome (sweet rice paste). The next day, the mochigome is ready to be steamed in the seiro (a wooden steaming frame) and then put into the usu, a large mortar made from wood, stone or concrete. The hot rice paste is then pounded with a kine ,a big wooden hammer, until smooth and shiny.

One of the most exciting parts of mochisutki is watching the cooperation between the person pounding and the person assisting (who quickly darts his or her hand into the usu and turns the rice before the next rhythmic pound of the hammer). It takes some coordination to get it right, but once the mochi is smooth and consistent in texture it’s placed onto a mochiko (sweet rice flour) covered surface, and small portions are pinched off, formed into balls, flattened and then set aside to cool until ready to eat.

At Morikami we perform the rice-pounding ceremony a few times throughout the day in order for everyone to get a chance to see and participate in the spectacle.

Tune in next week for a special New Year’s edition of Vlogs With Veljko where he’ll tell us about a very special Japanese New Year’s tradition- Nengajo!

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Memories of Bon – A Festival like No Other

After so many years, it’s hard to recall when the memories were made exactly, but the images remain like postcards from the Morikami in my mind… Every summer, the Morikami closes for one Saturday in August to open in the late afternoon for Obon, the cultural celebration that welcomes back spirits who have passed away for an evening of fun and music.

At the end of the festival, lanterns inscribed with messages to the spirits are set adrift on Morikami Pond, sending the loved ones back to the afterworld, as fireworks light the way.

This year, Bon is August 14 from 4-9 p.m. at the Morikami. If you have never been, wear comfy shoes and clothes, arrive early and marvel at the mix of humanity – because everyone goes to Bon sooner or later. Buy tickets at www.morikami.org/bon

Here are a few of my favorite recollections of Obon:

Bon Memory #1: Dancing in front of the Bon Odori stage with the kimono-clad Chitose Kai dancers should make you feel somewhat idiotic, but it doesn’t. The dancers are so elegant, and they’re all smiling at you, which makes you feel like you’re doing it right – even though you just learned the steps. Just step and wave, step and wave, step and wave…

Bon Memory #2: Standing at the base of the steps leading up to the Museum and the Cornell Café, pondering whether you want a meal with an eggroll from the Café or a piece of meat on a stick with Japanese beer from the fun, food vendors. Roll or stick, roll or stick, roll or stick…

Bon Memory #3: Just how warm and sticky can it get in South Florida on an August evening outside?? The world may never know, but you’re close to finding out…

Bon Memory #4: Seeing the message to your late aunt written on a lantern sleeve floating on the water among the many other lanterns, as you think you “feel” her in the air…

Bon Memory #5: A little boy sits motionless on his father’s shoulders watching the lantern-spirits float away, then tilts his head back and takes in the fireworks, still motionless, in little boy awe.

Bon Odori dancers

Bon lanterns

Obon fireworks

Sushi, It’s Not All About Raw Fish

Tonight, Trevor Corson, Food Network TV personality and well-known sushi concierge, is speaking at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens on the cultural context and origins of one of South Florida’s favorite foods.

One might wonder just how much can be said about sushi. Quite a bit actually.

Reiko Nishioka, the Morikami’s director of education, shares her thoughts on an entree she grew up with, and one that has definitely made its  mark on our western palates. The more we learn, the more we love…

“A local Japanese sushi chef here in South Florida said to me recently that there are more sushi restaurants in Boca Raton than hamburger joints. Sushi in America is a much different experience from that which is served in Japan.  You certainly won’t find a volcano or spider roll on the menu!

However, authentic Japanese sushi is not all about raw fish.  Maki-zushi (rolled sushi), Oshi-zushi (sushi pressed in a square mold), Chirashi-zushi (topping served scattered over a bowl of sushi rice), and Inari-zushi (topping stuffed into a pouch of fried tofu) are all very popular in Japan.  These forms of sushi do not necessarily use raw fish.  The common denominator here is the rice.  All sushi rice is vinegared rice.

When I go home to Japan, I love to sit at the sushi counter, enjoy a cup of sake and make small talk with the chef as he prepares my fresh sushi.  I hope you make and enjoy your own sushi experience as well!”

Assorted sushi rolls from the Cornell Cafe at the Morikami

No Snow in SoFla! It’s Time for Morikami’s Outside Dining

December doesn’t seem like the time for iced green tea and hot miso soup. No, it’s the season of pumpkin pie and mulled cider.

Unless, of course, you live in South Florida – home of record temperatures. We sit in front of our TVs, watching blizzards and icy roads wreak havoc on our northern neighbors with the A/C running. It’s hot outside down here!

But not too hot to take in the outside dining pleasures of the Cornell Café. I was there a few days ago, sitting on the patio overlooking blue skies and the greenery of Roji-En. Me and about 25 others had figured out that the humidity had lessened and the rain had abated long enough for us to really enjoy an al fresco menu of Asian cuisine.

One iced green tea, bowl of miso soup, shrimp tempura roll and eggplant entrée later, I was perfect – just like the weather.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know it’s time for eggnog and carols on yuletide something or another. But if you live near me, it’s also time to eat outside at the Cornell Café before the bugs, dark clouds and oppressive stickiness of summer days return.

A table has your name on it.

A bento box features a sampling of the Cornell Cafe menu.

Outside dining in December at the Morikami? No sweat -- literally!