The beans have been swept off the floor, and the oni masks have been stored away until next year. The Japanese holiday of Setsubun, the beginning of Spring according to the old lunar calendar, wrapped-up last week, but many convenience stores and supermarkets were left with a giant surplus of “eho-maki” (恵方巻き) – a traditional type of sushi roll eaten during the holiday. Originally limited to western Japan, in particular the Kansai area, these “lucky direction” rolls have spread across the country, partly due to convenience stores and popular rice-ball makers cashing in on the trend. This year saw a sudden surge in popularity, as cake shops and even ethnic restaurants put their own spin on this sushi dish.
If social media is any indicator, one of the most popular trends this year were Eho-maki cake rolls. Since “maki” means roll, I suppose the term is sort of redundant. Traditional eho-maki sushi rolls contain 7 ingredients, as 7 is considered a lucky number. The cake version follows similar rules, substituting classic ingredients such as cucumber or egg with kiwi and strawberries. The addition of popular characters such as Doraemon or Yokai Watch boosted sales at supermarkets and convenience stores around the country, while recipes for eho-maki cakes ranked high on cooking sites and blogs.
Not all people are thrilled with the trend. Chef “O” of a popular Mexican restaurant in Nagoya, complained that he received a phone call asking if he had eho-maki tacos. “Mexico doesn’t even have Setsubun,” he explained, “so why would I serve that kind of thing?” Not all Mexican restaurants in Japan agree. Fukuoka based Nakagawa Tacos, proudly serves eho-maki tacos during Setsubun. “Drug-on Tacos” (a pun on the word “dragon”) in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward boasts eho-maki tacos as well. There is even a recipe for eho-maki tacos on the popular cooking blog cookpad, for those who want to make a similar concoction at home.
The clamor for “lucky direction” rolls, so called because they are meant to be eaten in total silence while facing a prescribed direction (this year was south-by-southeast) has reached a fever pitch this year, and show no signs of stopping. What strange new innovations will we see next year? Whether you are a sushi lover or prefer to indulge your sweet-tooth, Japan’s eho-maki food culture will certainly have something for you.