Kobumaki is Japanese rolled Konbu (sea kelp; also spelled “Kombu”) cooked in a sweet and salty sauce. It is a part of Osechi Ryori, the Japanese traditional new year feast. There are a lot of kinds of Osechi dishes, but Kobumaki is one of the most traditional and important dishes, and it is almost always included in it. Like many other dishes in Osechi, Kobumaki is seasoned strongly to be able to last for several days during the Japanese holiday season.
Each of the Osechi Ryori dishes has a meaning to it, and Kobumaki symbolizes happiness because the word “kobu” sounds like a Japanese word for being happy – “yorokobu.” Kobumaki is, therefore, considered to be a food that brings good luck. As Japan is surrounded by oceans, there is an abundance of seafood including seaweed and kelp, and they are cooked into many different dishes. When you make Kobumaki, you use large sheets of dried sea kelp. They have to be soaked in water to make it soft. You may notice that not all Konbu pieces are perfect rectangles to roll. You try to choose the ones that have a similar shape or cut to make the same size, but it really doesn’t matter too much if they have different shapes. They’ll still roll up. A lot of times, fish like herring or salmon is rolled inside Kobumaki, but vegetables also work as a filling. We used Gobo (burdock root) here.
To tie the rolled Konbu, you need Kanpyo (dried gourd strips). Kanpyo needs to be cooked slightly to make it softer and more pliable. However, overcooking Kanpyo makes it too soft and easily breakable, so take care not to cook too long. It is actually quite fun to shape and tie Kobumaki. You may want to bring the whole family to make it like a craft project.
Kobumaki may be a little more traditional than your usual Japanese food, requiring exotic ingredients. However, if you want to taste something very authentic Japanese, this is it. Try it, and it might bring a lot of happiness to you next year!
- 30g dried Konbu
- 25g dried Kanpyo strings (gourd)
- 1/2 Gobo (about 5 oz or 150g)
- 1 1/2 cup (360 ml) water
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Mirin
- Soak Konbu in water for 5-10 minutes until soft and pliable. Strain and set aside.
- Wash Kanpyo. Put it in a bowl, add a pinch or two of salt, and rub well. Let sit for 15 minutes or so. Cook Kanpyo in boiling water for 3-4 minutes, strain, and let cool.
- Scrape the surface of Gobo with a knife, and wash. Cut into strips 2 1/2" (7 cm) long, 1/2" (1 cm) thick. Cook Gobo strips in boiling water for 5-6 minutes, strain, and let cool a little.
- Pat dry Konbu and cut into sheets about 2 1/2" (7 cm) x 5" (13 cm). It is OK not to be exact, but make all the sheets around the same size so you will have uniform rolls. You may have 10 sheets or so.
- Cut Kanpyo into 10-12" long ribbons (25-30 cm). Wrap a couple of Gobo strips with a Konbu sheet, and tie with Kanpyo ribbon finishing with a knot.
- In a medium pot, put water, rice vinegar, and Kobumaki and cover with a lid that is smaller than the pot so that it rests on the Kobumaki (or place parchment paper directly touching the food). Cook for 15 minutes at medium low heat. Uncover, then add sugar, Soy Sauce and Mirin, and stir. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, turning a couple of times. Remove the cover, and cook until most of the liquid is gone. Cool in the pot.