Osechi-ryori: traditional Japanese New Year meal
Osechi (お節料理) is a traditional meal for the Japanese New Year (oshogatsu, お正月) that dates back to the Heian Period, more than 1000 years ago. There are various versions of osechi; from traditional to modern and even exotic (Italian, French, Chinese, etc), but all based on the meal being hozonshoku, literally ‘preserved food’.
The New Year’s celebration in Japan was the one time of the year that mothers and housewives could get a few days off of work. All the cooking was finished before the new year and no cooking was done for the three days (with the exception of ozoni, a kind of soup).
Osechi-ryori is a bit unlike other dishes in Japanese cuisine as it doesn’t seem to have changed much over the centuries. All the dishes are cooked with sake, mirin, shoyu and sugar and while tasty, seem decidedly austere to us.
All the different preserved items are served in a box.
We had osechi-ryori at Paku’s house this year. Paku’s mother made the traditional osechi dishes and her father made a snapper baked in salt. Snapper, or tai, as it is called in Japanese is traditional at New Year’s, however this version, baked in salt, though it may look Japanese is actually based on the Western dish of a whole fish baked in salt.
Osechi-ryori, Box 1
Mainly simmered and boiled foods; matsutake mushrooms (upper right), simmered whole octopus (lower right) simmered cod eggs and cod meat (upper left)
Osechi-ryori, Box 2
Baby sardines, egg roll, (grilled) salmon (top, left to right). Carrots, bamboo shoots, konyaku, ankimo (the liver of the angler fish, a kind of monkfish, said to be the foie gras of Japan) (bottom, left to right). In the middle are two pieces of smoked salmon wrapped in senmai-zuke (white turnip tsukemono), a popular and modern addition to osechi-ryori.
Osechi-ryori, ‘Box’ 3
Buri teriyaki, black beans, kinkan (kumquat) simmered in sugar and shochu, awabi (abalone) (clock-wise, from the top left)
Whole Snapper (tai, 鯛) Baked in Salt
Whole Snapper (tai, 鯛) Baked in Salt – garnished with Sudachi
This is the meat from around the head area, said to be the sweetest. Notice that the sudachi is now ripened to nearly orange. The juice of the ripe sudachi is surpisingly sweet and deep yellow-orange in color.
Yuzu Mushi (steamed yuzu)
The fruit of the yuzu is scooped out and it is filled with dashi (soup stock) and buri, ginnan (nut), etc are steamed inside the yuzu shell. Exceptional! (This is not a traditional New Year’s dish.)
A beautiful Kyoto wagashi. Notice the dab of gold leaf on the top.