Many Japanese return to their hometowns for the holidays, and most of them use the opportunity to savor local cooking again while they’re home. One typical New Year’s dish is zoni, a soup made with mochi. Zoni has a lot of variety, however. Each area has its own recipes with different ingredients and seasonings.
Hakata zoni uses sumashi jiru, a clear broth, and flying fish that has been dried and grilled for the stock. Another seasonal food is the amberjack, a fish known for having five different names at different stages of its growth. For that reason, the fish has come to symbolize social success, and it is often served at celebratory occasions. Yet another Hakata specialty is the vegetable called katsuona, which has a flavor resembling the bonito, or katsuo, when chewed. The shape of the mochi used in zoni differs also depending on the region. In Hakata, round mochi is mostly used.
Another Hakata favorite indispensable for New Year’s, festivals, and celebratory occasions is gameni. That’s a type of stew with bite-size pieces of chicken, taro, carrot, lotus root, burdock root, shiitake mushrooms, and konnyaku, and flavored with sugar and soy sauce. The name gameni is derived from an expression in the Hakata dialect that means a mixture of many different things. That perfectly describes the dish.
Most local dishes use ingredients and cooking styles suited to the climate and geography of the area. For example, fish are often used in Hakata zoni, which is a reflection of the area’s proximity to the sea and ease of acquiring fresh seafood. Recently, a number of shops have opened that serve Hakata zoni and gameni year-round. Now you can enjoy some anytime — not just at New Year’s.
Originally published online for Fukuoka Now magazine (Jan. 2012)