Osechi Ryori – New Year’s at Izakaya Sakamoto

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As we were busy with Food Sake Tokyo tours through the end of the year we only had December 31st to prepare the osechi ryori, Japanese New Year’s cuisine. First thing on the morning of December 31st we went to our local depachika and picked up last minute ingredients. The department stores are always packed on the last few days of the year as people are shopping for food for January 1st. January 1 is the one day a year that many department stores and other retail shops will close. Working in food retail it is a busy day. I enjoyed my two years working at Takashimaya on these days as many regular customers would come in to pick up sake and wine for the holidays.

First, we started with making dashi from Hidaka kombu and katsuobushi. The kombu is saved from the dashi and used for making kobumaki (yes, spelled without an ‘m’). The kombu is wrapped with kampyō and then simmered in a sweet soy broth until tender.

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Gobō, burdock root, is simmered in water until almost tender, then finished cooking until soft in a dashi broth. It is then tossed in a sweet sesame dressing. This dish is called tataki gobō.

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This year we couldn’t find our vegetable cutters to make the pretty plum blossom shapes from carrots, so made it from scratch. Much harder to do this way of course, and the results not as pretty as they could be. These carrots will go in the simmered chicken dish.

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Hoshigaki, dried persimmons, are lovely when used in pickles. These will go with julienned daikon and carrots for a colorful namasu that is seasoned with a sweet rice vinegar and yuzu.

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The dried persimmons with the carrots and daikon before being pressed in the pickle pot.

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The iridori is savory simmered dish of chicken, carrots, burdock root, bamboo shoots, konnyaku, and lotus root. The store was sold out of snow peas so we added the green with mitsuba.

Most of the dishes are prepared on December 31st and assembled into the lacquer boxes. On the morning of January 1 we grilled buri (yellowtail) in a teriyaki glaze.

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Here is the assembled box.

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We made two layers this year. Here you’ll also find a sweet omelet, datemaki, that is made with happen, eggs, and sugar. The boxes are completed with sweet black beans, kazunoko (herring roe), chestnuts in a sweet syrup, kamaboko (steamed fish cake), tazukuri (dried fish in a sweet soy with sesame seeds), and the dishes mentioned above. Many of the components are on the sweet side.Image

At Izakaya Sakamoto we also served with the osechi ryōri a savory egg custard called chawanmushi, a soup made with mochi, and sashimi of flounder, sea bream, salmon, yellowtail, pickled Pacific mackerel, and three parts of tuna – akami, chūtoro, and ōtoro.

For more information on the different dishes often used in osechi ryōri, please read this piece I wrote for bento.com about ten years ago.

We wish our friends, Food Sake Tokyo tour clients, and blog followers the best for a year filled with delicious meals – and hopefully a visit to Tokyo.

Osechi Ryori at Depachika おせち料理

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Homemade Osechi Ryori

Osechi ryori is food made to eat the first days of the New Year. The photo above is of osechi ryori I made two years ago (I made most of it, I am still not confident to make kuromame).

Here is a list of just some of the popular items in osechi ryori:

Kazunoko (herring roe) – tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.

Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.

Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.

Kobumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kobumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

Datemaki looks like the tamagoyaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it’s made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It’s quite sweet.

Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.

Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year’s colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.

Another red-and-white food you’ll find is called namasu – typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.

For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.

Konnyaku (devil’s-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.

For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.

This time of year all depachika will sell a variety of osechi ryori that can be ordered ahead of time. Some are simple bento boxes with just the basics. Famous ryotei will make a limited number of stacked boxes filled with premium ingredients. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. This photo below is Takashimaya’s Tokusen Wafu Osechi featuring items from famous purveyors from throughout Japan.

Takashimaya Tokusen

Takashimaya Tokusen

This year Takashimaya is also featuring osechi ryori from famous ryokan in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima. Click here to see photos of these sets.
If you are in Tokyo, check out the osechi ryori displays, if not in the depachika then on the event floor (usually the top floor) of the department store. If you are keen on putting together your own osechi ryori then check out the depachika for ingredients or components to assemble your own.
Here are some of what you will find:
Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro Kamaboko

Suzuhiro has been making kamaboko for 170 years in Odawara, Kanagawa. When I worked at Takashimaya the Suzuhiro shop was directly in front of the sake shop. It was swamped this time of year with customers picking up kamaboko.

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Nihonbashi Kanmo Kuromame

Kuromame for me is one of the hardest items to make well and so is better bought. This kuromame is from Nihonbashi Kanmo, a shop famous for its hanpen.

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Shibamata Marujin Kurikinton

Kurikinton is always the first component to go in our house. It is hard to resist the chestnuts. Marujin is in the historic shitamachi district of Shibamata.

If you are picking up osechi ryori, be sure to pick up a bottle of sake.

Osechi Ryori – Japanese New Year’s Day Cuisine おせち料理

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Homemade osechi ryori

I made this osechi ryori set the first year I was married for my Japanese husband’s family. It took about a week in total (not all day but using parts of each day) of menu planning, shopping, and assembling each dish. Only the kamaboko and black beans were purchased.

Top left box: datémaki egg and fish cake rolled omelet, kamaboko (fish cakes), black beans, tazukuri or gomamé, kuri kinton (chestnuts in a sweet potato mash).

Top right box: nimono of chicken, carrots, renkon, gobo, konnyaku, and pea pods.

Bottom box: kazunoko (herring roe), namasu (pickled julienned carrots & daikon), sesame dressed gobo, kuwai, kobumaki (herring wrapped in kombu), and pickled renkon.

This article first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Trying to find somewhere open on and after January 1, when the New Year holidays have shut doors all around Japan, can be trying. Hence the tradition of osechi ryori, or seasonal food, dishes targeted at providing sustenance over the laidback days at home. Most can be prepared ahead of time, lasting for days when kept in a cool environment.

Like everything else in Japan, osechi ryori can be bought packaged exquisitely in deluxe boxes called jubako. At department stores such as Takashimaya, late October sees the spectacle of the first day of pre-order, when lined-up customers stampede inside to snap up the coveted limited-edition boxes. These tend to include offerings from Michelin-grade and other award-winning chefs, top-class hotels, and famous ryotei (luxurious Japanese restaurants)—and can fetch up to ¥200,000 per box. For those without a six-figure salary however, local supermarkets and conbini also sell—more affordable—box sets. Some mix in Chinese and Western elements, while others highlight regional cuisine.

Every year has its trends, and 2012 is no different. Look out for a proliferation of low-calorie options, and “yawaraka osechi”— soft foods for elderly customers.

COMMON COMPONENTS

  • Tazukuri—Candied dried sardines, formerly used as fertilizer in rice paddies, hence their other name gomame (“50,000 grains of rice”)
  • Kazunoko—Herring roe simmered in soy and dashi broth, symbolizing fertility
  • Kuromame—Simmered sweet black beans, a pun on the word “mame” for diligence and hard work in the upcoming year
  • Kohaku namasu—Pickled, red Kyoto carrots and strips of white daikon make up the celebratory colors of red and white
  • Kamaboko—Steamed fish cakes, also in the nationalistic colors
  • Kuri kinton—Mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnut, the kanji is a play on prosperity
  • Yude ebi—Boiled shrimp, whose bent backs refer to having a long life (check out some elderly on the bus for a visual explanation)
  • Kobumaki—Kelp, often wrapped around herring or salmon. A play on the word “yorokobu,” for happiness in the home
  • Tai—Sea bream; a play on the congratulatory greeting “omedetai
  • Sato imo—Taro root, symbolizing a great number of descendents, from the way the little potato-like vegetables proliferate
  • Renkon—Lotus root, the holes of which allow us to see clearly into our future
  • Daidai—Bitter orange, whose name is a homonym for future generations

Look out for spice packets for steeping in sake to make o-toso. The spice pack looks like a tea bag and is filled with herbs including cinnamon and dried sansho berries, and produces a delicious drink for New Year’s Day, thought to stave off illness during the winter season.