Osechi Ryori: Japanese New Year’s Dishes

The New Year’s holiday is the biggest celebration in Japan. However, unlike in the United States, New Year’s Eve (and Day) is very solemn for the Japanese people. There are no balloons, horns and party hats. Instead, people show their respect and appreciation for the happiness they enjoyed in the past year and they wish for the same and more for the New Year. The New Year’s celebration starts on January 1st and lasts for 3 days. During those three days people go to temples and shrines to pray for their New Year’s resolutions and to wish for happiness for the New Year.

Osechi Ryori is the special, traditional New Year’s food that Japanese people eat during the celebration. The tradition started in the Heian Period (794-1185 AD). The food is prepared and arranged in Ojubako (stacked boxes) before January 1st. The stacked boxes are used to represent the happiness, wealth and good health that will stack up for your family in the coming year. Since the foods are eaten throughout the next 3 days, they are cooked and seasoned well for preservation. Each food has meaning, such as happiness, long life, wealth, and new generation and each dish is arranged according to rules. For example, black beans belong in the first stack and so on. It could be 3 stacks or 4 stacks of Ojubako, depending upon how many different kinds and how many dishes you prepare. Usually if you have 4 stacks of Ojubako, you leave the fourth stack empty so there is more room to fill with additional wealth and happiness for your family.

Trays from the top; Ichino-ju, Nino-ju, Sanno-ju, Nonno-ju.

Ichino-ju (1st tray):

Kuromame (black bean cooked in sweet soy base) : Mame (beans) They represent health. There is a sentence, “mame ni hataraku”, which means, “able to work hard”.

Kobu maki (Kelp roll stuffed with salmon and chicken): It is associated with “yoro kobu”, meaning joy.

Kurikinton (mashed Japanese sweet potato with chestnuts cooked in syrup): The color of chestnuts is golden-yellow, meaning, “treasure”. Kuri is also called “Kachiguri”, meaning winning chestnut.

Kouhaku kamaboko (Red & White Fish cake): The shape of Kamaboko is a half circle and looks like a rising sun. It is eaten for good luck. It’s usually served with alternating pink and white kamaboko slices. Pink and white are celebration colors in Japan.

Tazukuri (Candied baby anchovies): Small whole anchovies are used as fertilizer for crops. They are served in hopes of a rich and good harvest.

Datemaki Tamago (egg omelet, soufflé style): Date maki looks richer, bigger and showier than regular Japanese omelets to represent the Date clan, who are famous for wearing the glorious and stylish dress of the samurai.

Nino-ju (second tray):

Surenkon (pickled lotus root): There are holes going through in the lotus root, meaning your life prospects are good.

Burino Teriyaki (grilled yellowtail with teriyaki sauce): Buri is also called “growth fish”, because one of the fish changes its name as they grow/success.

Ebino Okashira Yaki (Grilled sake marinated whole shrimp): Shrimp curls when it is cooked like an old person. It is good luck because you will live till a back bends like an old person.

Kouhaku namasu (Red & White pickles, using daikon radish & carrots): Red and white are the colors of happiness.

Sanno-ju (3rd tray):

Chikuzenni (braised chicken and root vegetables in soy sauce base): Braising means bringing many ingredients together. Represents a happy family.

Yonno-ju (4th tray):

Keep the fourth tray empty so there is room for more happiness and good luck to come to your family.


My Mother’s Zouni(Yew Year’s Soup –Soup With Sweet Rice Cake – My Mothere’s Style – It is my style now.)

Makes 8 to 10 Servings

16 to 20 round mochi, sweet rice cake

10 cups Kelp dashi, (see the recipe below)

8 oz daikon radish

8 oz carrots

10 stalks mitsuba

1/2 –3/4 cups saikyo miso

soy sauce to taste

1. Grill the mochi until tender and puffed. Wash burned part with warm water.

2. Peel and slice daikon radish in a half round or round

3. Peel and slice carrots in a half round or round

4. In a medium pot, heat 10 cups of dashi, radish and carrots until vegetables are tender.

5. Add saikyo miso using strainer. Do not boil miso. Add soy sauce if needed.

6. Serve two mochi, radish and carrot in an owan (Japanese wooden soup bowl) and pour miso soup. Garnish with a stalk of mitsuba on top.

Kelp Dashi

Makes 10 cups

10 cups water

6 oz kelp

1. In a medium size pot, soak kelp in 10 cups water for 20 minutes. Slowly heat it up to almost to a boil and then take out the kelp and strain the dashi

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