Gardena Valley center hosts osechi ryori workshop

A NEW YEAR’S FEAST ­— Kōhaku namasu (top left), toshikoshi soba (center) and ozoni (top right). photo by Akira Olivia Kumamoto

GARDENA, Calif. — The Gardena Valley Japanese Cultural Institute hosted a Japanese New Year’s food class series in October and November. The three-part class, taught by sushi chef Michael Inouye, showed students how to prepare osechi ryori, traditional food eaten during the Japanese New Year.

The history behind osechi goes back to the eighth century AD. People presented ritual offerings of food to the gods on sechinichi, days that marked the changing of the seasons according to traditional Chinese almanacs.

The most important sechinichi was New Year’s day, during which members of Japanese society also ate the dishes offered to different deities.

During the third class, held Nov. 18, Inouye taught participants how to cook kōhaku (red and white) namasu, toshikoshi soba and ozoni.

Namasu is thinly sliced daikon and carrots marinated in rice vinegar, salt and sugar. This dish symbolizes peaceful relationships. The red and white colors represent Japan and are considered to be good luck. Some people believe the red is meant to prevent evil spirits, while the white is emblematic of purity.

Toshikoshi soba is a simple bowl of buckwheat noodles with warm dashi broth and kamaboko fish cakes eaten on New Year’s eve to symbolize the release of hardship. This dish is also meant to bring the eater a long, fine life, just like the shape of the soba noodles themselves.

ased soup eaten on New Year’s morning. It’s mostly eaten in eastern Japan with warm, chewy mochi. According to Inouye, everyone makes their osechi ryori differently.
“It’s all depending on how you grew up and what your grandparents used,” said Inouye, reminiscing on New Years he spent with his family growing up.
The class started with the pupils thinly slicing daikon and carrots and massaging the ingredients with sugar, salt and rice vinegar for the namasu. Some of the students tasted it to see if it needed more of the seasoning.

“There is a recipe (but you can make it) more to your taste. Some people like it real sweet, some people like it more tangy,” said Inouye.

He recommended that the dish, once marinated, should sit overnight or longer to let the depth of flavor mature. Even with the rice vinegar mixture just massaged in, though, the flavor of the namasu was bright, acidic and sugary, with a bitter compliment from the daikon and earthy notes from the carrot.


Next, the class sliced up kamaboko and chikuwa fish cakes and green onions for the toshikoshi soba. They also thinly fried an egg and julienned it, and blanched and sliced spinach as a topping. Inouye boiled soba noodles until they were soft. The dashi broth for the dish had been steeped all day with konbu, and the students added bonito flakes, sake, soy sauce and salt to taste when the broth was almost ready to serve. Steaming scoops of dashi were ladled over cooled soba noodles, and were topped with the julienned ingredients to finish.

The ozoni was the final prepped meal, as it called for ingredients that were already made. Dashi was added to a bowl along with sliced fish cakes, napa cabbage, spinach leaves, shiitake mushrooms and green onion. The pupils warmed up mochi in the oven to eat along with the ozoni. Inouye said the morning meal often has a variety of different ingredients depending on what you had left from the night before.


After all of their hard work, the class got to enjoy the fruits of their labor together. The students created an assembly line in the kitchen, brimming from ear-to-ear with their mouths watering and they put together their feast. They passed piping hot bowls of savory soba around to one another as they crunched on cold namasu and sipped salty ozoni. Gooey mochi stuck to their fingers as they wiped the rice powder from their faces before slurping down more dashi. Like those determined chefs centuries before them, these cooks came to understand the importance of osechi tradition.


Inouye believed learning to cook these foods not only kept the Japanese culture alive, but brought back positive memories and joy to those who did the work. He said he planned the series because osechi ryori is a beloved tradition for him.


“I hope they take away that cooking can be fun,” said Inouye of his students. “I’m very into energy around us and how it goes into food. It’s (about) trying to be comfortable and happy in a kitchen.”

To find out about future classes and events at GVJCI, visit www.jci-gardena.org or call (310) 324-6611.


Finally, ozoni is a dashi broth-based soup eaten on New Year’s morning. It’s mostly eaten in eastern Japan with warm, chewy mochi. According to Inouye, everyone makes their osechi ryori differently.

“It’s all depending on how you grew up and what your grandparents used,” said Inouye, reminiscing on New Years he spent with his family growing up.

The class started with the pupils thinly slicing daikon and carrots and massaging the ingredients with sugar, salt and rice vinegar for the namasu. Some of the students tasted it to see if it needed more of the seasoning.

“There is a recipe (but you can make it) more to your taste. Some people like it real sweet, some people like it more tangy,” said Inouye.

He recommended that the dish, once marinated, should sit overnight or longer to let the depth of flavor mature. Even with the rice vinegar mixture just massaged in, though, the flavor of the namasu was bright, acidic and sugary, with a bitter compliment from the daikon and earthy notes from the carrot.

Next, the class sliced up kamaboko and chikuwa fish cakes and green onions for the toshikoshi soba. They also thinly fried an egg and julienned it, and blanched and sliced spinach as a topping. Inouye boiled soba noodles until they were soft. The dashi broth for the dish had been steeped all day with konbu, and the students added bonito flakes, sake, soy sauce and salt to taste when the broth was almost ready to serve.

Steaming scoops of dashi were ladled over cooled soba noodles, and were topped with the julienned ingredients to finish.

The ozoni was the final prepped meal, as it called for ingredients that were already made. Dashi was added to a bowl along with sliced fish cakes, napa cabbage, spinach leaves, shiitake mushrooms and green onion. The pupils warmed up mochi in the oven to eat along with the ozoni. Inouye said the morning meal often has a variety of different ingredients depending on what you had left from the night before.

After all of their hard work, the class got to enjoy the fruits of their labor together. The students created an assembly line in the kitchen, brimming from ear-to-ear with their mouths watering and they put together their feast. They passed piping hot bowls of savory soba around to one another as they crunched on cold namasu and sipped salty ozoni. Gooey mochi stuck to their fingers as they wiped the rice powder from their faces before slurping down more dashi. Like those determined chefs centuries before them, these cooks came to understand the importance of osechi tradition.

Inouye believed learning to cook these foods not only kept the Japanese culture alive, but brought back positive memories and joy to those who did the work. He said he planned the series because osechi ryori is a beloved tradition for him.

“I hope they take away that cooking can be fun,” said Inouye of his students. “I’m very into energy around us and how it goes into food. It’s (about) trying to be comfortable and happy in a kitchen.”

To find out about future classes and events at GVJCI, visit www.jci-gardena.org or call (310) 324-6611.

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