Just as the different regions of North Carolina have a preference for a particular style of barbecue sauce, and just as a feud exists between lovers of New York style pizza and Chicago deep dish pizza, so too is there a food-based rivalry in the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan. It centers around a soup called ozoni. Although each family typically has their own recipe variations, there is a distinctive difference in the soup base between the two regions.
Of course, it’s not unusual for different regions of a country to make particular dishes in different ways. But Ozoni is a special soup that’s part of Japan’s New Year’s Day traditional dish, osechi ryori. The soup typically contains mochi and whatever other additional ingredients each family prefers. The main difference between Kanto-style ozoni and Kansai-style ozone is the soup base.
Consider a Thanksgiving turkey. No matter what seasonings you use or cooking method you prefer, you are still going to get that distinctive taste of turkey. But with Kanto-style ozoni and Kansai-style ozoni, you’ll wind up with two very different soups. And despite each family’s different variations on ingredients, when referencing the soup, you’ll usually always make the distinction between Kanto style and Kansai style.
What Is Ozoni Kansai Style?
The traditional Kansai-style ozoni uses white miso and dashi as a soup base. It typically contains root vegetables such as daikon radish, taro, and carrots, and mochi rice cakes. People believe that the origin of this style began in Kyoto, which was once the capital of Japan. The preparation method gradually spread through the surrounding region.
The preparation of the mochi rice cake also differs from the Kanto-style. It is molded into a round shape and boiled. The round mochi rice cake (maru mochi) resembles the full moon, which symbolizes good luck. Subsequently, eating the soup on New Year’s Day is meant to invoke good luck for the New Year. In the past, many in the region were farmers, and wished for a good year of crops.
Kansai Style Regional Variations
Some of the surrounding regions also have their own slight variations. For example, in Osaka, families will consume the traditional Kansai-style ozoni on New Year’s Day, but on January 2nd, they will eat a second soup made with a soy sauce soup base combination, with tofu as an added ingredient.
In Nara, the white miso is mixed with kombu broth, and the mochi is baked, rather than boiled. Occasionally, the ozoni mochi is also eaten with kinako, a flour made from soybeans.
Lastly, families in some parts of the Tottori Prefecture enjoy making the ozoni with adzuki red beans. They call it “Adzuki Zoni.” In other regions, people consider this dish as “oshiruko” (sweet red bean soup).
What Is Ozoni Kanto Style?
In the Kanto region, people make the soup base with soy sauce, resulting in a different appearance as well as flavor. The reason for the culinary difference actually stems back to the historical period of the Samurai, who had a phrase “miso wo tsukeru” which translates to “to add miso to something” and meant “failure of samurai and decrease in reputation.”
Subsequently, the people in the Kanto region made their ozoni with a soy sauce base. During the Samurai era in Japan, the Edo period, Tokyo became the capital of Japan and was the center of samurai culture.
As the population increased, the demand for mochi also increased. People started cutting the rice cakes into squares rather than shaping them into round balls in order to save time and produce them faster. The mochi in the Kanto region are also baked, rather than boiled. The additional ingredients in the ozoni soup include kamaboko (fish cake), mitsuba, chicken, and carrots.
Kanto-Style Regional Variations
In Tochigi, people use a bonito dashi soy sauce base to make the soup. The addition of other root vegetables such as burdock root also results in a rather unique variation of ozoni.
In Gunma, the soy sauce base is made with chicken broth, and tofu is added to the soup. Some families also add “tsuto tofu,” which is a block of tofu that has been wrapped in straw. After it simmers in the soup for a short while, it delivers a pleasing earthy flavor and aroma.
In the region of Saitama, people add Japanese gingko seeds, ginnan, to the ozoni. Because the ginkgo tree has an especially long lifespan, the seeds in the soup symbolizes longevity and many children.
Of course, there are even more variations that expand on these particular regional recipes, as each family has their own tastes and preferences for particular ingredients, just as many families in America have their own recipes for chicken soup and tomato sauce. Which style do you think you would prefer?