Osechi Ryori – Japanese New Year’s Cuisine

お節料理 Osechi ryori, colorful food in lacquer boxes, is a traditional cuisine, which is eaten in the first three days of the new year. Its origins can be traced back to about 400 years ago. It started as simple food to serve the god of the Shinto shrines and to wish for a peaceful year. It developed its appearance over time and now it looks like food of a jewelry box.

Osechi consists of three or five layers of lacquer boxes. The top includes a lot of dish called 祝儀肴 shūgi sakana, literally celebratory dishes for saké. The second includes 酢の物 sunomono, vinegared dishes, the third is 焼き物 yakimono, grilled dishes. The forth includes 煮物 nimono, simmered dishes. And the bottom is filled with leftovers from the other layers.

Osechi is made with many ingredients and takes several days to prepare. Most foods are usually richly seasoned with soy sauce, sugar and vinegar. In olden days, stores were closed the first few days of each year. By having richly seasoned food, the osechi would keep families fed until the shops opened once again. In modern days most shops close only for January 1st. But even now we have the luxury of 24-hour convenience stores, that even carry a nice selection of saké, beer, and shochu. I got a call at the last minute to bring some saké to our new year’s party. I stopped by 7-11 on the way and look what I found. I couldn’t have been happier, and all three came to just about 3,000 JPY. These are lovely sakes that would round out any meal.

7-11 sake

Masumi junmaishu, Kikuhime junmaishu, Sawanoi Okutama Yūsuijikomi

Essential ingredients for osechi are black beans, anchovies, and herring roe.

They have a deep connection in the old Japanese agricultural system.

  • Anchovies were used to be the most cheapest and richest fertilizer for farms, so the dish from dried anchovy is called 田作りtazukuri, which literally means make rich fields.
  • Black beans, 黒豆 kuro-mame in Japanese, mame can be translated to beans but also as a word play, can be translated as work hard.
  • Herring roe, 数の子 kazunoko, in Japanese, have millions of eggs in a sack, so that we believe it is good for fertility.

Rich fields and hard workers make for an abundant harvest, and it can feed a lot of babies and make more power to create rich country.

The colors are well considered using red and white for happiness, gold for a fortune, and green from decorative leaves for many wishes include long life, change of generations, keeping away evil, etc.

Osechi is not just a new year cuisine, but it also includes many wishes. So it is very important for us to cook and eat them with our hearts full of hope. However, this tradition is kind of disappearing. These days, fewer families make osechi by themselves but will order it from department stores. At the end of year, you can find long queues for osechi at department stores selling sets made by famous restaurants. It is interesting to note that osechi nowadays is not limited to Japanese cuisine, can be also made by French, Italian, or Chinese restaurants, a big departure from the past. Osechi at department stores start at about 10,000 JPY (about $100 USD) and can run up to more than 100,000 JPY ($1,000 USD).

Last year while Shinji was in culinary school he made osechi using Tsuji recipes. He wanted to challenge himself once more and spent six days in total for shopping and cooking. It is a long process that starts with getting all of the ingredients. Japanese supermarkets stock up on many of these key ingredients starting in December. Following are photos of what he made.

2016 Osechi Shugi Sakana

sunomono (vinegared dishes) clockwise from top left:

生寿司 kizushi – vinegared and cured in kombu fish, it is covered with a shaved piece of shiraita kombu

  • 真鰯 ma-iwashi – sardines
  • 本皮剥 hon-kawahagi – filefish
  • 赤甘鯛 aka-amadai – tilefish
  • 真鯖 ma-saba – Pacific mackerel

tako – octopus

チョロギ chorogi – Chinese artichoke

なます namasu – vinegared kintoki ninjin (Kyoto carrot), daikon, persimmons, and yuzu

がり gari – pickled ginger

叩き牛蒡 tataki gobō – burdock root with sesame, sugar, and soy sauce

なます胡麻和え namasu goma-ae – vinegared kintoki ninjin (Kyoto carrot), daikon, persimmons, yuzu, and mitsuba in a sesame miso dressing presented in a yuzu cup

奉書巻き hōsho maki – smoked salmon and vinegared turnip tied with mitsuba stalks

蓮根 renkon – pickled lotus root

2016 Osechi yakimono

yakimono (grilled dishes) clockwise from top left:

天然海老 tennen ebi – wild Australian tiger shrimp

牛八幡巻き gyū yawata-maki – beef wrapped around burdock root

松風 matsukaze – chicken meatloaf garnished with white poppy seeds

きんかん玉子 kinkan tamago – egg yolk marinated in miso and mirin

甘鯛塩焼き amadai shio-yaki – salted and grilled tilefish

のし梅 noshi-ume – apricot jelly

いくら ikura – salmon roe in candied kumquat

鰤西京焼き buri Saikyō-yaki – Saikyō miso marinated and grilled yellowtail

ふき fuki – butterbur stems simmered in dashi

2016 Osechi nimono

nimono (simmered dishes) clockwise from top left corner:

竹の子 takenoko – bamboo shoots

椎茸とすり身 shiitake to surimi – shiitake mushroom stuffed with fish paste

焼き豚 yaki-buta – pork grilled and simmered in sweet soy sauce

あん肝 ankimo – monkfish liver simmered in dashi

薩摩芋 Satsumaimo – candied sweet potatoes

里芋 satoimo – taro root simmered in dashi

くわい kuwai – arrowhead colored with kuchinashi no mi (gardenia seeds)

真鱈の卵 madara no tamago – Pacific cod roe simmered in dashi, sugar, and soy sauce and garnished with julienned ginger

金時人参 kintoki ninjin – red carrot from Kyoto

さやいんげん saya-ingen – snap peas

awabi – abalone simmered in a sweet soy broth

2016 Osechi sweets

祝儀肴 shūgi sakana (celebratory dishes) clockwise from top left:

伊達巻 datemaki – Japanese omelet made with fish paste

海老と豆の佃煮 ebi to mame no Tsukudani – shrimp and beans cooked in a sweet syrup (gift from a friend)

黒豆 kuromame – sweetened Tamba black beans garnished with gold (Tamba in Kyoto is famous for black soybeans)

いくら ikura – salmon roe in sweetened kumquat cups

数の子 kazunoko – herring roe marinated in dashi and coated with katsuobushi powder

手作り tazukuri – dried baby anchovies candied in a sweet soy sauce

子持ち鮎佃煮 komochi ayu Tsukudani – sweetfish rich with roe candied is a sweet soy sauce (gift from a friend)

栗金団 kuri kinton – sweet potatoes and sweetened chestnuts colored with kuchinashi no mi (gardenia seeds)

紅白蒲鉾 kōhaku kamaboko – red and white fish cake made from croaker (Kagosei is the producer)

鰊昆布巻き nishin kobumakikombu wrapped around herring and tied with kampyō (note that the name of the dish is kobumaki, not kombumaki)

2016 Osechi full course

This is the full spread. Shinji also made sashimi platters to round out the osechi. This was also served with ozōni, soup with mochi and saké.

We hope that 2016 is the year we finally get our cooking school up and running. We have been very busy with our food tours for Food Sake Tokyo. Best wishes to our friends who follow this blog. We hope to meet many of you this year.

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