The recipe to start the new year off right for this cooking column is for a traditional staple that is enjoyed and cherished in households in Japan during the New Year’s celebration.

“It has to be ‘o-zoni.’ The spirit of New Year’s is fused in the bowl. If you have rice cakes, you are ready for the new year,” says cooking expert Yoshiharu Doi, speaking of the festive soup with rice cakes.

At the Doi household, they pound “mochi” (rice cakes) at the end of the year. Children living in the neighborhood look forward to the special day when they get to eat freshly pounded rice cakes.

“We don’t do it as an event," he says. "It is a full-fledged undertaking to greet the new year.”

Doi helped with the rice-cake pounding since he was in elementary school. His cooking expert father, Masaru, was born in Kagawa Prefecture, known for o-zoni featuring rice cake with sweet bean paste filling. The sweet round rice cake made of freshly pounded mochi and bean paste, plus white miso, creates the gentle flavor of home.

Each locality and each home has its own rice-cake soup. Even in Osaka, where Doi was born and raised, and even in Tokyo, he makes the soup containing the rice cake with the sweet filling.

This week’s recipe introduces o-zoni made with boiled regular round rice cake and white miso. The rich flavor and sweetness of the white miso create a well-rounded flavor.

Doi’s father, Masaru, was known for his New Year’s “kuro-mame,” simmered black soybeans that are glazed and wrinkle-free.

Back then, Masaru appeared regularly in TV cooking shows, through which he earned a following with his soft-spoken instructions on home cooking. Doi often used to accompany his father to TV stations.

“I wanted to be with my father,” he says.

He was led to the world of cooking as he watched his father at work up close.

All the members of the Doi family greet the new year wearing kimono.

“You examine your past and turn over a new leaf," Doi says. "Since the new year means crossing a line, it would be nice to greet it with a pure heart.”

Doi’s rice-cake soup reflects this mind-set. Serves four.


4 round rice cakes

Some daikon radish

Some “kintoki” carrot (red variety)

3 cups water

160 grams white miso


Peel radish and carrot and cut in rounds that are 5-mm thick. Boil.

Heat water in pot and dissolve miso.

Heat water in another pot. Boil rice cake until soft.

Lay a piece of radish on the bottom of bowl, place cooked rice cake, carrot and radish. Warm miso soup and pour in bowl. Garnish with “aonori” (green laver powder) to taste.

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From The Asahi Shimbun's Watashi no Ryori column