Every year on New Year’s Day the Tanaka’s open up their home for friends and family. On offer are all manner of Japanese and American deliciousness. There is cold beer (Mexican) and vino (Chilean). It’s an event not to be missed. Especially if you’re too hung over to cook for yourself. (which, in full disclosure, I wasn’t, but why cook when somebody else is doing it for me?)
But the big event is the chance to eat George’s special “Good Luck” New Year’s soup. As people mingle and sip and nosh, George hunches over his big pot of soup, It’s slow going: he has to grill a mochi, then cook it in the broth carefully before slipping it into the bowl, along with sliced carrots, a hard-boiled egg, chopped chicken and some kind of seaweed. Only when he’s carefully assembled all this will he bring you your bowl.
And everyone who enters wants a bowl. Everyone agrees that 2009 was not a great year. Everyone hopes 2010 has to be an improvement. And everyone believes that every little bit helps, even if it’s a soup.
So I asked George this year to explain to me the significance of this Good Luck soup.
“Oh, there’s great significance,” he tells me gravely.
“Go on…” I say, hoping for some ancient Japanese wisdom, or at least a rare family recipe.
“Well, for example, there’s chicken in the soup, see it? And there’s half a boiled egg. These symbolize life. Mother and daughter.”
“And the mushroom? That symbolizes the earth. And so hard work…”
“And the carrots….they symbolize….um, good vision. Like, so you can see the bigger picture…”
“Wait a minute…”
“The mochi really does have something to do with the New Year, but I don’t know what.”
“Is he making this up?” I peer at Dr. Ash, standing next to him, who starts laughing first. Usually the English can keep a straight face longer than anyone.
So there’s no old family recipe or any particular significance behind this soup, I say. It’s all hype.
Well, not entirely. There is a Japanese soup they eat on New Year’s, says George. And the dashi base is culturally accurate. “And I added the Shitake mushroom this year,” he said helpfully. “But I think maybe it’s too big.”
I could only eat half my bowl of Good Luck soup. I had already filled up on Okonomi-yaki, which is a popular dish in Osaka, and frankly, one bite of the dense, chewy mochi dumpling in the soup topped me off for good.
George offered to take my bowl. “It was delicious,” I told him. “Sorry I couldn’t eat all of it.”
“Half-eaten Good Luck soup means you’ll have the most luck,” he said, grinning. “People who eat all of it usually have bad luck. So you’re good.”
I’m gonna take him on his word on that on.
Happy 2010, faithful readers!