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A new year is well underway, but for a vegetarian in Japan, the memories of all those bōnenkai (yearend parties) linger, with their share of mistaken meat dishes, unwanted fish flakes and perhaps a questionable dipping sauce or two.

Despite well-meaning friends and holiday cheer, bōnenkai can leave something to be desired on the vegetarian front. This year, a tomato-based nabe (hot pot) at one get-together seemed like a promising start, but soon was overtaken by oily meats stewing right next to the veggies. A colorful bagna cauda came close at another, but alas, the sauce into which you dip your vegetables is anchovy based. For the most part I made do with cups of good cheer and conversation, then grabbed a konbu onigiri (seaweed rice ball) from a convenience store on the way home.

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