Celebrate Setsubun with Ehomaki: Lucky Direction Sushi Rolls

Posted February 3, 2016 by Stephanie
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A couple of years ago –while Mike and I were living in Tokyo– around the end of January, we started noticing an influx of giant sushi rolls being advertised. It seemed like everywhere we went there were photo ads for uncut sushi rolls. Soon after the ads, we started seeing the actual rolls in convenience stores and the basement food halls. Curious, we tried to look up what they were. It took us a while because googling “giant sushi roll” doesn’t exactly tell you much about why there are giant sushi rolls. You do get some pretty interesting pictures, however.

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I don’t remember how we finally figured it out, but eventually we learned that the sushi rolls were ehomaki, or lucky direction sushi rolls. They were being rolled out (heehee, couldn’t resist) for Setsubun, the day before the beginning of Spring in Japan. It’s considered lucky to eat ehomaki on February 3rd, while facing a predetermined lucky direction that changes each year. Of course we decided to get in on the action. I remember taking forever to decide which ehomaki to buy. There are literally dozens of varieties to choose from. They range from pretty standard rolls with the traditional seven ingredients, to luxury rolls, wrapped with wagyu beef.

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This is the first time in three consecutive years that I’m not going to be in Japan for Setsubun. I miss Japan like crazy and I’m feeling like I need a little bit of extra luck so I’m celebrating Setsubun with some ehomaki. To be honest, I’m not the best sushi roller out there – there’s a reason that sushi chefs train for years before they are allowed to roll. Since I didn’t want my subpar sushi rolling skills to jeopardize our luck gathering in any way, I decided that going out to buy a couple of ehomaki would be best. Unlike Japan, ehomaki isn’t something that you can just walk into your neighborhood 7-11 to pick up, so Mike and I ending up going to our neighborhood little sushi joint, where they know us pretty well. We decided that we would order the ehomaki to go because sitting and facing South Southeast while eating in silence would probably be just a touch off-putting to everyone around us.

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So, at the end of our meal, right before we got the bill, we told our server that we wanted to order a couple of rolls. I was a little shy about the whole thing so I made Mike order. It turns out I should have worried at all because once our server heard our order she knew it was for Setsubun. Mike asked for a spicy tuna roll and a dynamite roll, uncut. At first the sushi server looked a little confused, but then, all of a sudden her eyes went wide and she started nodding. “For Setsubun?!” she asked. We all laughed and nodded and then she asked us if we knew which direction we were supposed to face. I answered, “South, Southeast” and she smiled a huge smile and said, “Sugoi!”

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Typically this sushi place makes their rolls inside-out style, but she asked the sushi chefs to do ours ehomaki style with the nori on the outside. All of the sushi chefs were smiling to themselves as they heard the order being called out. A couple of other waitresses stopped by to chat with us about Setsubun and one even asked if Mike was going to dress up as Oni to let me throw soy beans at him. And the funny thing is, I totally wanted to print out a mask and make Mike do it, but he drew the line.

I miss Japan intensely so it’s nice to bring a little bit of it back home. Today I’m going to be eating my takeout ehomaki in silence, facing South, Southeast. Maybe this year will bring a bit of luck my way!

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Some Setsubun Tips for Maximum Luckiness:

  1. Make sure you mark February 3rd on your calendar because that’s Setsubun day!
  2. Eat ehomaki. Ehomaki is basically makizushi, an uncut sushi roll. Typically they’re pretty thick sushi rolls and they seem to get bigger and more elaborate as the years go on. You can ask for an uncut sushi roll at your favorite sushi joint. Just make sure it’s maki style, with the nori on the outside.
  3. Make sure you’re facing the lucky compass direction determined by the zodiac symbol for the year. This year’s direction is South, Southeast.
  4. Eat your ehomaki in silence, from beginning to end while thinking about what you wish for in the coming year.
  5. Bask in your good luck!

Bonus: get someone (usually the man of the house) to dress up like Oni (print a mask out from the internet) and throw soy beans at them and shout, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” Basically, you’re saying, “demons out, happiness in!”

PS – Mike and I launched a new theme! I’m totally in love with it and hope you are too. Let me know what you think!

Dynamite California Roll Ehomaki Recipe
makes 1 roll

I made a hybrid of a dynamite roll and California roll – I love the crunch of tempura with the creaminess of avocado and kewpie mayo-ed crab. If you live near a Japanese supermarket, it’s pretty easy to find all of the ingredients for this roll pre-made. They almost always have shredded kani (crab) and prawn tempura in their ready to eat cases.

  • 1 sheet nori
  • 1/2 cup cooked sushi rice
  • 1 tablespoon tobiko
  • 1 green lettuce leaf
  • 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup shredded crab mixed with a bit of kewpie mayo
  • julienned cucumbers
  • 2 prawn tempura* or grilled shrimp

Start out by placing your sheet of nori, shiny side down, on your rolling mat. Lightly wet your hands and evenly spread out the sushi rice onto the nori, leaving about 1 inch of nori at the top. Spread out the tobiko at the edge closest to you. Place the lettuce leaf on and top with the sliced avocado, crab, cucumbers, and shrimp. Roll the rice and nori over the filling and gently press down, making sure to roll all the way to the un-riced part of the nori. Use the mat to shape the sushi roll. If you’re making this for Setsubun, don’t cut the roll. Enjoy in silence!

Notes: I just winged my tempura recipe for one of these rolls, loosely basing it on this recipe. For the other, I simply pan-fried. Feel free to cut the roll into pieces if you’re just eating this on a regular day.

Sushi Rice Recipe adapted from Food and Wine
makes about 2.5 cups

This is a scaled version of Morimoto’s sushi rice recipe. He uses sake-mash vinegar and rice vinegar, but I adapted this recipe to just use rice vinegar. I also dialed down the salt a bit. He recommends using a rice cooker to cook your rice and I’m not about to argue with a sushi master! This is the rice cooker that I use and love. Don’t worry if the rice seems too wet while you’re mixing in the vinegar – the rice grains will absorb all the flavor and dry out a bit while you’re fanning. It helps if you have someone to fan while you’re mixing, but you can definitely do it by yourself.

  • 1 cup short grain Japanese rice
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Rinse the rice, then drain well in a colander and let dry for 15 minutes.

Cook the rice in a rice cooker according to the rice cooker’s instructions. Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Gently warm over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. When the rice is cooked, move it to a very large bowl. Sprinkle on the seasoned vinegar all over the rice. Use a slicing motion with the edge or your rice paddle or spatula, gently separating the rice grains while mixing in the seasoning. Fan the rice while mixing to help dry it out. Cover with a damp towel to keep warm.

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  1. So cool, have never heard of this tradition but it is one I could get on board with!

  2. Rachel says:

    Loved this post – though how/ who decides the direction for each year?

  3. Tori says:

    OMG, YUM! Yes please, I could totally go for some of this amazingness! These rolls look incredible!

  4. Claire says:

    Man I miss Setsubun! I’m glad to read your story, but it’s sad that Mike won’t dress up as the oni. :) Maybe next time? Hope your wishes come true.

  5. Steph Sia says:

    Love love love the new look of your website. Beautiful post!

  6. Alana says:

    EEEEE!! You better believe we are referencing this good luck guide tonight!! Also, you and Mike are the coolest. Just saying.

  7. ehomaki sounds way better and more legit than sushirrito! which is what i was thinking in my head when i saw the first picture….

  8. Shayne says:

    I’m curious about the whole direction thing, is it different every year — north, south, east, west..etc?

    1. Stephanie Le says:

      it’s different every year based on the zodiac sign of the year. i think most ppl just look it up!

  9. Funny, I ate one of these today (but stuffed w pinto beans and nacho cheese chips) – like a sushi burrito!

  10. Fernando says:

    Never heard about Setsubun before, but happy you introduced it to me. Inspired to try my hand on one of these for my blog :)

  11. Kee-ju says:

    Ah, so this explains the giant sushi roll phenomenon that was present within the last month or so. How cool! I love the story of you guys ordering as well, that was fun to read.

  12. love the story & how the staff got all happy once they heard your order :)
    yays for the new theme too – so clean, so functional, & so you!

  13. Lucy says:

    Your pictures are sososososo pretty!! I hadn’t heard of this tradition previously, but it sounds super cool!

  14. Olivia says:

    I have never heard of fanning rice! I shall have to give it a go. Could the sushi recipe be made with brown rice instead Japanese rice?

    1. Stephanie Le says:

      japanese rice has a somewhat sticky quality to it due to it’s short grains. they do have brown japanese rice which would work but i don’t recommend just regular brown rice. hope that helps!

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