If you’ve never heard of osechi ryori, you may confuse it with a bento box. Both offer smaller pockets of food with varying flavors. However, osechi ryori is more deliberate with five sections of traditional foods. Each food within the sections has an intention to bring a positive outcome in the new year. Let's dive deeper into the world of osechi ryori and how you can create a delicious homemade version of this traditional new year food.
What is Osechi Ryori?
There's more to this delicious box of food than you might think. This New Year's tradition is served and created in a specific manner. It’s meticulously prepared in a beautiful lacquered box that resembles a bento box. Osechi cuisine is both delicious and symbolic. It is said that during the first few days of the New Year, there is not supposed to be any cooking done. Because of this, the food items are specially curated ahead of time. Then, they are added to the osechi boxes, also known as jubako.
Each food item is served cold (remember, no cooking!) and set in little pockets. There are two potential reasons for avoiding cooking on the first few days of January. The first theory is that the deities are meant to enjoy this time in peace (without cooking noises). The second, more practical theory notes that this is a time for rest for everyone in the household, including the people who generally cook every day during the rest of the year.
History of Osechi Ryori
Osechi is one type of food that dates back over 1000 years to the Heian period, between 794 – 1185. Initially, food was offered each year to the gods when each new season began. The most important offering was produced during New Year, during sekku, the Harvest Festival. The higher court also participated in this bountiful feast, and its name changed to osechiku. During the Edo period, this feast began being consumed in more households and its name, again, evolved to osechi. Now, this tradition occurs annually in nearly all Japanese homes. These boxes are stacked to represent happiness and good luck that are "stacking up" for the upcoming year. Each box is filled with food except for the bottommost/first box. This box is empty as this is where the blessings are received. Fun Fact: It is also common to eat ozoni, aka New Year Mochi Soup, which contains a miso soup base with the leftover mochi from the New Year's Eve altars.
What Are the Types Of Food Included?
There are various osechi food items, each with a separate meaning and cooking process. Some places in Japan serve candied baby sardines, grilled fish, and kuri kinton made with candied sweet chestnut and sweet potato. Below are some of the most common New Year's dish options you can expect when consuming an osechi box.
- Datemaki. In Japanese cooking, datemaki is an egg roll created from a fish cake. It is sweet in flavor and represents gaining knowledge and culture.
- Ebi. This food is also known as shrimp and is intended to bring in a long life.
- Kazunoko. This osechi dish is also known as fish eggs from herring. This dish represents the want for an abundant family.
- Kuromame. Many use this dish, made from black soybeans, to wish for a healthy, productive year ahead.
- Kohaku Kamaboku. This combination of red and white fish cakes brings happiness and protection from bad spirits.
How Can I Eat Osechi Ryori at Home?
It's easy to make a homemade osechi ryori without spending hours on traditional Japanese cuisine. Instead, you can use premade snacks to represent the main dishes, making it a quick New Year's Eve prep process.
- Maruka Shokuhin Seaweed Tempura: Setouchi Sudachi Citrus Flavor (1 Bag). Add these Japanese snacks to your osechi to represent Kombu, aka seaweed, which brings happiness.
- Meito Sangyo Puku Puku Tai: Chocolate (10 Pieces). This delicious chocolate treat already represents the tai fish, making it a great substitute. It is shaped like a taiyaki cake, a well-known Tokyo treat. Include this sweet as a way to bring happiness and joy.
- Koikeya Minit's Stick Potato: Suppa Mucho Plum (6 Bags). It's common to include satoimo potatoes as a wish for fertility. Add a handful of these delicious potato sticks to replace this Japanese New Year's food.
- Nihonbashi Kabou Fujiya Nectar Peach Mochi (~7 Pieces). While Japanese mochi is not part of an osechi ryori, it is a common offering to the deities. Adding mochi onto an altar is said to protect homes from fires.
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By Krystina Quintana