Kichisen Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? 京都吉泉 おせち料理
Japanese New Year’s, or O-shogatsu is a celebration with ancient roots and perhaps the most prominent aspect of it is food and drink. Osechi ryori, or New Year’s cuisine is preserved food and is intended to last for several days. Osechi is richly fortified with cultural metaphor and visual symbolism. Traditionally this was the only time of the year that the mother of the family got several days holiday. Some families still make their own osechi but it is very time consuming and now it is common to order your osechi at a department store or a famous restaurant in early autumn. Kichisen’s osechi is spectacular; preparation starts in July, it serves 5, contains 41 kinds of food and comes in a one of a kind white lacquered box inspired by Shinto shrines, start saving now for next year because it costs about $1,500 USD.
Japanese New Year and Food and Drink
Shimenawa しめ縄: Rice straw ornament with mikan tangerine or other regional citrus fruit used to decorate the house, especially the entry.
Kagami Mochi 鏡餅: A ‘mochi display’ to welcome the God of the year to the home.
Otoso お屠蘇: Sake with Chinese medicinal herbs, shared by all family members to toast in a healthy year.
Osechi Ryori おせち料理: (what you are reading about)
Ozoni お雑煮: Mochi simmered in miso or sumashi soup, the taste and ingredients vary by region.
Origin of Osechi Ryori
O-shogatsu chopsticks, iwaibashi, have no handle, they are tapered on both ends; one side is for God and the other for a human. The osechi meal is one intended to be shared with God.
Osechi ryori is hozonshoku, or preserved food and still resembles what Japanese ate many centuries ago. Salt, vinegar and simmering is used to preserve the osechi food for several days. Traditionally the women of the family spent several days making the food and cleaning the house for the New Year’s celebration. During the several days of shogatsu, women generally did no work. This was their several days vacation out of the entire year.
Kichisen’s White ‘Jubako’ Lacquered Box
The green hollyhock leaf motif on the box is the symbol of Kichisen and it comes from the neighboring Shimogamo Shrine. Tanigawa made the first white lacquered box because osechi is cuisine to be eaten with God, and white, not black is the color of God in Japan, so Tanigawa changed his jubako box to white.
I, Peko, actually wanted to interview Tanigawa because I saw a photo of this white jubako, I actually didn’t know anything about him at the time. If you have seen a lot of lacquer ware, the first time you see this it is astounding, so simple, yet hugely powerful. It is quite astonishing that no one had thought of this before.
Kichisen’s osechi is traditional and orthodox. Preparation starts in summer and uses only the highest quality wild, natural ingredients and utilizes the latest in freezer technology. In July, wild natsu-matsutake, or ‘summer matsutake mushrooms’ are procured. As the shrimping season closes in November, wild shrimp are procured in October and frozen. Wild shrimp can be shelled while retaining the natural firmness, shape and texture of the meat, unlike farm raised, imported shrimp. Most osechi now, even expensive osechi, uses imported, farm raised shrimp.
So what are the 41 dishes in Tanigawa’s white lacquered boxes? Well, we are going over to Kichisen just as soon as we post this article to see and take some photos. Tanigawa and his students will be up all night getting the boxes ready to ship by ‘cool’ express delivery first thing in morning of December 30. Kichisen’s 2009 Osechi will arrive on December 31, just in time to eat first thing on New Year’s Day morning.
Kichisen’s ‘Old’ Osechi Jubako Box
Black, brown, gold, vermillion, natural wood are the conventional colors for lacquered jubako boxes. This was Kichisen’s design until five years ago when Tanigawa split with the crowd.