Ehoumaki (ehou maki): Lucky long sushi roll for Setsubun no hi

(Another one from the archives. Today (February 3rd) is once again Setsubun no hi. Unfortunately, what with trying pack up the house by the end of month when we are moving, and the Bento Challenge going on over at Just Bento, I haven't had much time to do post-worthy cooking for Just Hungry. But some should come... In the meantime, if you want to eat a big whole sushi roll for luck today, here's how!

This year's ehou (lucky direction) is a bit to the right of East-North-East. While I'm at it, here are the ehou for the next four years:

  • 2009 - East-North-East
  • 2010 - West-South-West
  • 2011 - South-South-East
  • 2012 - North-North-West ....
  • 2015 - West-South-West

Enjoy your ehou maki! Originally published February 1, 2008.)

ehouzushi-eating.jpgThis year, setsubun no hi (節分の日) falls on the 3rd of February (some years it's on the 4th). It marks the start of the spring season or risshun (立春) in Japan according to the old lunar calendar. It's not an official national holiday, but it is celebrated in ways all meant to drive away bad luck and bring in new, good luck. Most of the traditional rituals revolve around beans, because beans are considered to be very lucky. But there is another way of celebrating setsubun no hi, and that's with a big, long, uncut sushi roll called ehou-maki.

I grew up in and around the Kanto region, which is the area around Tokyo, so I didn't know about ehou-maki ((恵方巻き)growing up, because it's a Kansai region (the area around Osaka and Kyoto) custom for setsubun no hi. Nowadays though the ehou-maki tradition has become popular nationwide. They are sold everywhere, especially at convenience stores, who take this as an opportunity to get people to celebrate, buy and eat in that awkward gap in between New Year's feasting and Valentine's Day chocolate gorging.

[Edit: ehou is pronounced eh-hoe by the way, not ee-haw.]

This made me react in So, what makes an ehou-maki different from a regular sushi roll? There are basically three rules:

  • It must contain seven ingredients, because seven is a lucky number.
  • It must not be cut, because it might cut (off) your luck.
  • You have to eat it while facing the lucky direction, which changes every year! This year's lucky directly is hinoe (丙 (ひのえ)), which is a little bit to the south of south-south-east on a regular compass. If you can read kanji, this page has a good chart.
  • Finally, you must eat the whole roll in total silence.

A seven-ingredient sushi roll is basically a futomaki, or fat sushi roll, and that is what the directions are for. I've suggested several filling variations.

ehouzushi-500.jpg

Last year, the Superbowl fell right on Setsubun no hi, so there's a New York-Boston (remember it was the Giants vs.Patriots or something) filling combo below. This year, I guess the Cardinals were out of luck, ehou-maki wise. (What would have been a good Pittsburgh-themed sushi roll filling?)

You can of course order a regular futomaki from your favorite sushi takeout, and ask them to put in seven ingredients and to not cut it. Then on Sunday, face the right away, and solemnly eat your roll in total silence.

You can of course order a regular futomaki from your favorite sushi takeout, and ask them to put in seven ingredients and to not cut it. Then on Sunday, face the right away, and solemnly eat your roll in total silence.

Ehou-maki, lucky seven-ingredient sushi roll

The ingredients for one roll. Increase proportionately according to the number you want to make.

  • A bit less than 1 1/2 cups (about 300ml) prepared sushi rice
  • 1 sheet of nori seeweed
  • Seven ingredients of your choice - see below for suggestions

Equipment needed:

  • a sushi rolling mat. In a pinch it is possible to roll a sushi roll with plastic wrap and so on, but for futomaki the support given by a sushi rolling mat is pretty useful. Besides, they are quite cheap and available at any Japanese or Asian grocery these days.
  • a bowl of cold water with a little vinegar (sumizu). This is used to wet your hands, rice scooper and other utensils, to keep rice grains from sticking.

Rolling a big fat maki

Put the nori sheet, shiny-slick side down, on your sushi rolling mat.

futomaki-step1.jpg

Spread about 1 1/2 cups (lightly packed into cup; don't smoosh down!) of sushi rice evenly over the nori, leaving about a half inch or 1 cm gap on the far side. Use your fingers dipped in the bowl of vinegar water to spread out the rice.

futomaki-step2.jpg

Pile up your filling in the middle of the rice. Don't try to pile on too much here if you are a beginner.

futomaki-step3.jpg

Grab the near end of the sushi rolling mat to start rolling. You may need to reach around with your fingers to keep the filling in place.

futomaki-step4.jpg

Roll over the filling in one go - stopping in the middle will make for a messy roll. Squeeze tightly, and finish rolling.

Unroll. (Practice does help, so do over if your first one didn't work.) If the roll looks a bit uneven, gently squeeze again to even out.

futomaki-step5.jpg

Optionally serve with wasabi and soy sauce for dipping.

Remember that for a ehou maki you must not cut the roll. But if you're making a futomaki for a regular day, cut off the ragged ends (which go in your mouth) and cut the rest into 5 or 6 even pieces. Having a very sharp knife and wetting the blade before cutting helps.

Lucky seven ingredient combination ideas

Traditional Japanese

All ingredients can be bought at a well stocked Japanese grocery store.

  • 1 dried shiitake mushroom, soaked in water until softened, then cooked in 2 cups of the soaking liquid with added 2T mirin, 1/2 cup soy sauce, and 3T sugar until very tender (about 20 minutes or more)
  • 1 piece of kanpyou or dried gourd strip, soaked in water until soft, and cooked with the shiitake. Larger Japanese groceries like Mitsuwa often have precooked kanpyou - look in the refrigerated section.
  • Tamagoyaki or usuyaki tamago (Japanese style omelette)
  • A small piece of sushi-grade tuna or other sushi-grade fish, cut into thin strips
  • Some denbu (でんぶ)- pink flaked cod - found in the refrigerator section. It looks like bright pink fluff (the bright pink comes from food coloring, if that concerns you)
  • Grilled anago eel (kabayaki, 蒲焼き), cut into thin strips - found in the freezer section usually
  • Thin stick of cucumber

The fillings I used

This rather turned into a Japanese meets Swiss sort of combo. It tasted good!

  • 1 dried shiitake mushroom, cooked as above
  • Kanpyou, cooked with the shiitake as above
  • Finely julienned carrots
  • Smoked salmon (could not get sushi-grade tuna!)
  • Datemaki - a fish-egg combo tamagoyaki. I'll give the recipe for this very soon, but you can use tamagoyaki instead. Datemaki is often sold at Japanese groceries (it looks like a bright yellow rolled cake), so you can use that instead.
  • Thinly julienned cucumber
  • A mild local cheese called Bachtel-Stei. You could use something like Monterey Jack or Fontina.

A vegan combo

  • Shiitake
  • Kanpyou, both cooked as above.
  • carrots cut into sticks and cooked with the shiitake briefly
  • Thin fried tofu (aburaage), blanched in hot water then cooked with the shiitake. You could also use prepared inari zushi skins.
  • Blanched and slivered green beans
  • Blanched and well squeezed out spinach
  • Thin stick of cucumber

A New York/Boston combo for Super Bowl Sunday

If you want your team to win, make sure you're facing the right way when you eat the roll, and don't say a word!

  • Smoked salmon or better yet, belly lox
  • Cream cheese mixed with mayonnaise
  • Thin stick of cucumber
  • Chopped cooked lobster (or, imitation crab sticks if you are on a budget)
  • Finely chopped chives
  • Thinly julienned pickled jalapeno peppers
  • Boston lettuce, cut into long thin strips

Ham and cheese combo

Almost like a Subway sandwich in a sushi roll.

  • Julienned boiled ham...or even spam, maybe
  • Avocado, cut into thin strips
  • Thinly julienned cucumber
  • Cream cheese
  • Thinly julienned pickles
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce
  • A couple of watercress sprigs

The Mediterranean combo

  • Cooked and flaked salt cod
  • Mayonnaise
  • Finely chopped olives
  • Boiled shrimp, finely chopped
  • Salt-cured anchovies, de-salinated a bit
  • Toasted pine nuts
  • Arugula

The poor student's combo

  • Canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise
  • Finely chopped hardboiled egg
  • Thinly sliced onions, sprinkled with a little salt and massaged to soften, then drained
  • Thinly julienned carrots
  • Thinly julienned cucumber
  • Shredded lettuce, any kind
  • A few capers or chopped up pickle

Think up your own combinations! Just come up to seven and your karma factor is set.

Here is a TV reporter eating an ehou maki in Times Square:

And here is some dude dressed up as Homer Simpson eating an ehou maki:

More about setsubun

The way we celebrated setsubun when I was growing up was with beans. We'd go to a nearby jinja or Shinto shrine (Buddhist temples also do this), where the priests would throw toasted soybeans wrapped in paper at the crowd while everyone yelled oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi! (Demons outside, luck inside!) Traditionally you are supposed to eat as many beans as your age, but the paper-wrapped beans often had about 10 to 12 beans. So, when as a 10 year old I ate 10 packets of beans, I got quite a tummy ache. Depending on the shrine or temple, the priests also throw little gifts at the crowd, and that can make things a bit scary as everyone shoves and pushes to grab them! I never caught a gift but I did get hit square in the face with something hard once at one of those things.

As I said earlier, ehou-maki is really a Kansai tradition. In the Kanto area the only real food tradition associated with setsubun is those toasted beans. Basically, raw soybeans are slowly roasted until they are crunchy and edible. Nowadays, peanuts are often substituted for the toasted beans. Some families might make some _osekihan_, azuki (adzuki) beans and rice which is a sort of an all-occasion celebratory dish.

A final way of celebrating setsubun no hi is to take a nice long relaxing bath, with some slices of yuzu in the water. Bathing in hot yuzu-infused water is supposed to get rid of bad spirits. At least it smells nice! In Japan you can get bath essences with yuzu oil. I'm guessing that theoretically any citrus would work, but who am I to try to play with old superstitions.

Here's the Wikipedia entry on _setsubun no hi_.

See also

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