Without eating Osechi Ryori, the traditional Japanese new year does not start. Japanese people cook up traditional foods and pack them into bento box-like beautiful lacquered boxes before the new year comes. We, however, can achieve this beautiful dish without those lacquered boxes “Jubako”.
What is Osechi Ryori?
Osechi Ryori is the Japanese traditional foods that are eaten on New year’s day. It was originally a dish offered to God at the seasonal festivals. “Osechi ryori” now refers to Japanese new year food because soon New Year is the most important and the first of the festivals.
What’s in the Osechi Ryori?
Japanese people now enjoy New year’s celebration dishes wishing the happiness, safety, health of the family, and prosperity of descendants. They incorporate the abundance of mountains and oceans. Furthermore, each dish and its ingredients have auspicious meanings. Knowing those special wishes incorporated into each dish will make making Osechi Ryori even more fun!
Jubako the special box
Jubako is the special multi-tiered food box that Japanese use for packing Osechi ryori. It is generally 2 or 3 tires and measures 19cm x 19cm x 6cm (7.5inch x7.5 inch x 2.4 inch). They are usually beautifully Lacquered as well. I brought mine from Japan. You can get them online or could use a square baking dish.
What’s goes into the first Ju (tier)
This tier is the first tier so pack colorful appetizers to emphasize the festive atmosphere and catch eyes when the lid is first opened. Also, pack dishes flavored sweet for children who can not consume Sake (alcohol). The following dishes are suggested to go into the first tier with their auspicious meanings.
Two coloured eggs (Nishiki Tamago)
The beautiful two-colored egg dish is delighted as a new year’s dish. The yellow yolk and white of egg white are used as a metaphor of gold and silver. Also, the word “Nishiki” is a pan for two colors ( 二色) and brocade (錦).
Candied Sardines (Tazukuri)
This dish is named after the fact that a rice field used to be fertilized with small fish in hope of abundant crops. This Tazukuri using small sardine fish is one of three celebration dishes in the Kanto and Kansai regions.
Sweet rolled omelette (Datemaki)
“Kastella Kamaboko” was introduced from Nagasaki to Edo in the Edo period. It resembled the Kimonos that Date (Dandy dude) people wore. Therefore it came to be called “Date Maki”. Also, in the past, important documents and pictures were made into scrolls (-maki). That is the reason that there are lots of rolled dishes in Osechi Cuisine.
Sweet black beans (Kuromame)
Kuro – Mame means Black – Beans. Mame is also a word for durable and healthy in Japanese. Therefore wishes long life. Many Osechi dishes are a play on words. “Mame ni Hataraku” which means work diligently is a meaning behind this dish. So Kuromame is indispensable for Osechi Ryori.
Kamaboko fish cake (kouhaku kamaboko)
Kouhaku means crimson red and white. Kamaboko is simply fish cake. Kohaku Kamaboko is also an indispensable Oseshi dish. Because it symbolizes the sunrise. And also crimson represents happiness and white represents sacredness.
Candied chestnut & Sweet potatoes Kuri Kinton
Kinton is written “金団”. It used as a metaphor of golden treasure (good fortune). Kuri Kinton dish brings hope that this year will be wealthy. This dish is made out of mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts. In addition, Kuri (chestnuts) represent an abundance of Mountain food and have been respected as an auspicious food by saying “Kachi guri (winning chestnuts)”.
Kombu Rolls (Kobumaki)
Kobu is kelp and maki is roll. This is another dish that plays on the word “yorokobu”. Therefore it is an indispensable dish for a festive dining table as it also used to decorate kagami mochi (decorative rice cake used for new year’s decorations). In fact, the kelp is regarded as healthy food containing plenty of fiber and minerals.
Herring roe (Kazunoko)
Kazunoko is Herring roe. This dish is like a prayer for descendants’ prosperity. It has long been served for Osechi Ryori as it is another auspicious food. Herring roe is eaten because the herrings have many offspring and Japanese people wish their children to be prosperous. It is luxurious and quite expensive food nowadays called “yellow diamond”.
What goes into the second tier?
Mainly an abundance of ocean foods such as grilled fish and prawns are served in the second tier among refreshing vinegared side dishes such as Kouhaku namasu. Some suggestions follow with their auspicious meanings.
Simmered Shrimp (Ebi Umani)
Shrimp is also an indispensable food for celebration with its long beard and bent hips symbolizing longevity.
Daikon & Carrot salad (Kouhaku Namasu)
Kohaku namasu is filled with the wish of peace in red (carrot) and white (daikon). They are also the color that represent happiness. It used to be made with raw (nama) seafood, so the name of namasu was given. Nowadays, instead of raw seafood, dried persimmon, kelp and shredded yuzu are also used.
More dishes going into the second tier
Also, the burdock root dish called “tataki gobo”, vinegared lotus root “Su-renkon” etc go into the second tier.
What goes into the third tier?
As for the third tier, usually, the Japanese fill it with simmered food of mountains such as potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. Also, nowadays many people incorporate western dishes such as roast beef, glazed ham and beef roll ups.
Now unless you go to Japan and buy beautiful lacquered Jubako, or get them online, you may be thinking that it is not possible to make osechi ryori. Don’t despair not be discouraged to make osechi ryori. You can use any square dish. So try making your own festive presentation using a square baking dish!
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