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New Year's Day Japanese Style

2007_12_FoodMochiClose.jpgEver since we read about osechi-ryori in the Times last week we’ve become a tad obsessed with this traditional cuisine that the Japanese whip up for the New Year. Stacked jubako, a more elegant take on the bento box, are filled with delicacies deriving from an age-old taboo forbidding women from cooking during the first three days of the New Year. In addition to sweet potato and burdock root and bits of grilled meat or fish, the boxes often include kamabako, or fish cake, whose red and white color are synonymous with festivals in Japan and kuro-mame or black soybeans. Mame means "health," symbolizing a wish for health in the New Year. Although Julia Moskin’s piece included several recipes, Gothamist decided to purchase a premade jubako or go to a restaurant for this festive fare. We quickly ruled out Kai, the elegant Upper East Side kaiseki spot, which was offering a 30-item jubako for $350. Also out of the running was Hakubai's $80 brunch.

Despite the economic setbacks, we were determined to sample some Japanese New Year’s fare and settled on mochi. Fans of food films may remember the glutinous rice cake from a scene in Tampopo when an old man chokes and is saved by having the sticky mass removed from his craw via vacuum. Since it was just before the New Year, we decided to purchase the festive okagamimochi seen here. Ours was decidedly smaller and less ornate than those seen sitting atop the bars at Japanese restaurants around town at this time of year. Total cost: $3.49. On New Year’s day, we smashed the top of the plastic dome and removed it, uncovering the two-tier white mochi. Apparently the stuff about choking is no myth; the label on the bottom warned children and the elderly to chew thoroughly because of the gooey texture. With a glass of water in hand, we popped a shard of the white stuff into our mouth. It wasn’t chewy at all, in fact it was kind of gritty.

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