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Osechi Ryori Japanese New Year Foods

Guest Author - Chidori Phillips

New Year’s Day is the most important holiday in Japan, and many preparations for this celebration are seeped in centuries of tradition. The New Year brings renewed hope and the Japanese anticipate the event by cleaning their homes to sweep out the “oldEand begin the year with a clean, fresh start. It is a common belief that what you do on New Year’s Day is what you will be doing for the rest of the year. Hence, the Japanese spend this day enjoying family and friends. It is considered back luck to work on this day and that includes housework of any kind, especially using the stove or hearth for cooking.

In fact, it was considered bad luck for Japanese wives to cook for the first three days of the New Year, with the exception of preparing the mandatory Ozoni Soup. This is how the practice of eating osechi-ryori began. Osechi is traditional Japanese New Year’s food that represents good things to come. It is prepared in the days before the New Year and can be enjoyed at room temperature.

Vegetables and green foods like seaweeds represent good health. Fish and proteins symbolize bountiful catch and abundance. Fish eggs, or roe, portend fertility and children.

The foods are attractively arranged in beautiful lacquered jubako (layered box), each layer filled with symbolic offerings. The Japanese often go visiting from home-to-home of friends and family, bringing sweets (mochi and wagashi) and sharing osechi boxes. Today, busy people purchase their osechi-ryori at local markets, and the variety of foods has increased to include non-traditional items, but the spirit of osechi—to relax and enjoy time with loved ones—still rings true.

Here are some of the traditional osechi-ryori foods:

Datemaki (sweet egg omelet roll). Slices of rolled omelet. Its golden hue symbolizes gold and wealth while the egg itself represents fertility and children.
Ebi (shrimp). The spine of shrimp are curled like the backs of the elderly. Those who eat shrimp on the New Year hope to live to a ripe old age.
Iseebi (steamed shredded lobster). Steamed lobster flesh is shelled and shredded. The shreds look like the long white strands of hair of old people. This represents the wisdom of the elderly and, again, long life.
Kamaboko (steamed fish cake). Store-bought, kamaboko usually has a pink rim on the outer edge of white fishcake that is shaped in a half-dome log. It doesn’t look or taste like cake or fish, really. It has a rubbery texture and, despite my poor descriptions, is pretty tasty. It lends color to the jubako offerings.
Kazunoko (herring roe). Crunchy, salty fish eggs that are held together in a thin membrane unlike other fish eggs that are loose. Kazunoko represents many offspring.
Kinkan amani (sweet kumquat). These sweet golden fruits represent wealth.
Kinpira Gobo (burdock root). The sturdy burdock root splits at the end and the one who eats gobo on the New Year wishes for his luck to split and multiply.
Konbu maki (seaweed rolls). The word konbu, or kobu, is similar to the Japanese word for happiness, yorokobu.
Kuri kinton (sweet potato mashed with chestnut). The golden color represents prosperity.
Kuromame (black beans). Simmered in sugar, these sweet black beans are eaten for good health in the coming year.
Nimono (simmered vegetables). Usually, cut root vegetables and mushrooms are simmered in dashi, mirin and soy sauce.
Shin takenoko (bamboo shoots). This fast-growing plant symbolizes wishes for prosperity to grow quickly.
Tazakuri (baby sardines). These tiny little fish are used to fertilize rice crops so as an osechi food, they represent a bountiful harvest.

Regional and personal favorites can be added to customize an osechi jubako, too. But since a store-bought osechi jubako can cost as much as $200, it behooves use to make our own osechi foods at home even though it takes a lot of effort to prepare the various dishes. If, by any chance, the thought of preparing or even purchasing an osechi jubako is overwhelming, be sure to at least eat [url=http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art32808.asp]
New Year’s Ozoni Soup{/url] to ensure your good luck for the coming year.

Kuromame (Sweet black beans)
1 lb. Kuromame, dried
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup soy sauce

Wash and soak Kuromame in water overnight. Drain and add enough water to cover in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer until beans are soft but not mushy. Add soy sauce and sugar and cook for 15 minutes.

Kinpira Gobo (Burdock Root)
½ lb. gobo
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
¼ cup soy sauce
4 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. katsuobushi or dried shrimp
1/4 tsp. chili flakes, optional
½ tsp. ajinomoto, optional

Wash and peel gobo and julienne into thin matchsticks. Soak in water for 30 minutes. Drain well. In a sauté pan, heat vegetable oil and fry gobo for about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook until liquid is absorbed, stirring frequently.




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Content copyright © 2013 by Chidori Phillips. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Chidori Phillips. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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