Oshogatsu — Japanese New Year — is a big celebration in which friends and family get together to share wishes for a healthy and happy year. Enjoying specially prepared New Year’s food, or osechi ryori, is an important part of this tradition.
For the past 15 years, my friend and Japanese native Junko Endo has hosted a Japanese New Year’s party in Portland. Each family who attends prepares a few osechi ryori dishes and brings them to the party to share.
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- View the slideshow above to see a variety of osechi ryori dishes.
Traditional osechi ryori consists of a variety of dishes, such as kuromame (sweet black soybeans), tataki gobo (burdock root seasoned with vinegar, soy sauce and more) and kazunoko (seasoned herring roe), often packed neatly in tiered boxes called jubako. Also, some non-traditional dishes such as roast beef, Chinese- or Korean-style dishes are sometimes incorporated into the osechi feast. In addition to being tasty and visually appealing, each dish has a symbolic meaning such as long life, good health, prosperity and more. Below are some examples.
- Kuromame (Sweet Cooked Black Soybeans) - "Mame" means beans and "mame mame shii" means hardworking in Japanese. This dish symbolizes a healthy, hardworking year.
- Gobo (Burdock Root) - Since gobo grows long and sturdy roots, dishes with gobo represent stability.
- Kazunoko (Seasoned Herring Roe) - This dish symbolizes a wish to be gifted with children.
- Datemaki (Rolled Egg Omelet Made with Fish Cake) - Datemaki, which looks like a rolled document, symbolizes academic achievement.
- Konbu maki (Konbu seaweed wrapped salmon cooked in soy sauce flavored broth) - This dish symbolizes joy.
One traditional New Year’s food item not to be missed is called ozoni. Ozoni is a soup with mochi (rice cakes) and vegetables that is prepared especially for the New Year. It features many regional variations; for example, in the Kansai region (southern-central region of Japan), people prepare miso soup, while clear soup is served in the Kanto region (Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures).
Many households finish preparing osechi ryori on New Year’s Eve. They store the osechi ryori at room temperature for the first couple of days of the new year so that they don't need to cook during the New Year's celebration. To help preserve the food, many dishes are prepared with salt, sugar, soy sauce and vinegar.
Although I normally cook 3-5 items each year for the potluck party I attend, many households in Japan prepare the entire selection of osechi ryori, which can take more than a day to complete. As it is time-consuming, nowadays some people purchase ready-made osechi ryori from restaurants, department stores or even online stores.
"I think this (get-together) is like a Thanksgiving dinner where your friends and family gather each year and enjoy the traditional meal," my friend and potluck host Endo explains. "And we mark the new year by wishing each other a good year. I probably would not feel like the new year has arrived if we did not have this tradition."