Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori?

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series O-shogatsu Ryori

Kichisen Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? 京都吉泉 おせち料理

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
Kichisen Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? 京都吉泉 おせち料理
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
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.

Santa’s Workshop
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
Kichisen Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? 京都吉泉 おせち料理
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.

5 Responses to “Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori?”

  1. […] Osechi: What is Kyo-ryori (Kyoto Cuisine)? Osechi: Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? Osechi: Shopping for Osechi Fish at Kyoto Wholesale Food Market Osechi: Shopping for Osechi […]

  2. […] by Kyoto Foodie This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series O-shogatsu RyoriIn 2009 we brought you authentic Kyoto osechi New Year’s cuisine and while Japanese style is the norm there are some restaurants that do Western, Chinese or […]

  3. […] What is osechi ryori? […]

  4. […] @ No Recipes. Food Librarian’s fam­ily make their own mochi via Mochit­suki! High roller Osechi foods @ Kyoto Foodie. Share […]

  5. Gary Pagano says:

    I really enjoy visiting your site. You always have such interesting information with great writing. Very enjoyable.

    I’m a big tea geek and love all aspects of tea culture. Can you write something on the origin and practice of Obukucha? In Kyoto, my tea friends made me usucha with one of those small hard umeboshi in it on new Years morning. Anymore background?

    Thanks again for your site. Keep up the great work.

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