Thursday, 11 January 2018

The Festival of Seven Herbs: Seasonal Food in Japan

Japanese tend to strongly connect certain foods with particular seasons - previously I introduced some foods typically eaten in autumn such as sweet potatoes (satsuma-imo) and chestnuts (kuri). In winter, warming root vegetables are very popular such as the large white Oriental radish known as a daikon (大根). This radish is one of the ingredients used in making seven-herb rice porridge/gruel (おかゆ) pictured. The herbs are actually spring plants, the first green of spring that brings colour to the new year table. This is traditionally eaten on The Festival of Seven Herbs or Nanakusa no Sekku (七草の節句) which is celebrated (unsurprisingly) on January 7th. This festival is one of the five traditional seasonal festivals (go-sekku =五節句) that used to be celebrated at the Japanese imperial court mentioned in a previous post.

Supermarkets usually sell the ingredients in a convenient pack (pictured) to save people buying the herbs separately. The packet even has a recipe for making the gruel together with a pictorial description of the seven ingredients listed under their traditional names: hakobera (chickweed), gogyō (cudweed), suzushiro (white radish), seri (Java waterdropwort), suzuna (turnip), nazuna (Shepherd's Purse), and hotokenoza (Nipplewort). See here for a table. There are all sorts of chants and customs associated with preparing and cutting the herbs, but most Japanese today seem to have forgotten these and simply enjoy it as a simple, plain food after the excesses of the new year period as well as a way to wish for health in the coming year. Itadakimasu!