Food Trip: Osechi

New Year, new experience. Spending the holidays in Japan has its own perks and privileges... and one of them is trying out plenty of traditional Japanese dishes (and I really mean PLENTY).

Osechi (御節料理)

Every New Year, the Japanese eat a set of traditional Japanese foods called Osechi-ryōri or simply Osechi (御節料理 or お節料理). The tradition started in the Heian Period (794 - 1185).

The Osechi-ryōri or simply Osechi (御節料理 or お節料理)

My wife was also delighted with the osechi

The box came with this... (a guide to what's in the osechi)

Choose what you want to eat!

Yup we all look like we just woke up

Even my daughter is excited to taste the osechi!

Osechi is very recognizable because of their special boxes called jūbako (重箱). The jūbako resembles a bento box, and like a bento box, it is also kept stacked before and after use.

Team Nicerio tries out the Osechi

Going back to the different dishes that make up an osechi, each dish has a special meaning connected to the celebration of New Year like the following:
  • Daidai (橙), Japanese bitter orange. Daidai means "from generation to generation" when written in different kanji as 代々. Like kazunoko below, it symbolizes a wish for children in the New Year.
  • Datemaki (伊達巻 or 伊達巻き), sweet rolled omelet mixed with fish paste or mashed shrimp. They symbolize a wish for many auspicious days. On auspicious days (晴れの日, hare-no-hi), Japanese people traditionally wear fine clothing as a part of enjoying themselves. One of the meanings associated with the second kanji includes "fashionability," derived from the illustrious dress of the samurai from Date Han.
  • Kamaboko (蒲鉾), broiled fish cake. Traditionally, slices of red and white kamaboko are alternated in rows or arranged in a pattern. The color and shape are reminiscent of Japan's rising sun and have a celebratory, festive meaning.
  • Kazunoko (数の子), herring roe. Kazu means "number" and ko means "child." It symbolizes a wish to be gifted with numerous children in the New Year.
  • Konbu (昆布), a kind of seaweed. It is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning "joy."
  • Kuro-mame (黒豆), black soybeans. Mame also means "health," symbolizing a wish for health in the New Year.
  • Kohaku-namasu (紅白なます), literally "red-white vegetable kuai," is made of daikon and carrot cut into thin strips and pickled in sweetened vinegar with a yuzu flavor.
  • Tai (鯛), red sea-bream. Tai is associated with the Japanese word medetai, symbolizing an auspicious event.
  • Tazukuri (田作り), dried sardines cooked in soy sauce. The literal meaning of the kanji in tazukuri is "rice paddy maker," as the fish were used historically to fertilize rice fields. The symbolism is of an abundant harvest.
  • Zōni (雑煮), a soup of mochi rice cakes in clear broth (in eastern Japan) or miso broth (in western Japan).
  • Ebi (エビ), skewered prawns cooked with sake and soy sauce. It symbolizes a wish for long life, suggesting a long beard and bent waist.
  • Nishiki tamago (錦卵), egg roulade; the egg is separated before cooking, yellow symbolizes gold, and white symbolizes silver, both of these together symbolizing wealth and good fortune.
What do you want to try out first?

Despite the plethora of dishes in the osechi, you don't need to eat it in any particular order. Eat the ones that you like first before trying out the others so that you won't lose your appetite in case you eat something that tastes weird. 

As usual, the osechi has proven to me that food preparation in Japan is truly an art. I was lucky enough to try it out during the 14th day of our 2014-2015 Japan trip.

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