NEW YEAR'S CUISINE
For the Japanese, the New Year's holidays are the most important event of the year. The ceremonial osechi ryori, or New Year's cuisine, eaten over the holidays are both offerings to the divine spirits and auspicious foods believed to bring happiness and good fortune to the family, full of wishes and prayers for an abundant harvest, many offspring, etc. Learning about and sharing osechi ryori which tells us so much about the New Year traditions of Japan is both fascinating and delicious, so let's settle in (pour me another cup of sake, won't you?) and start reading!
THE MEARING OF OSECHI RYORI
Every single dish included in osechi ryori is imbued with auspicious significance and history. The more you know about the hopes and aspirations that have been associated since long ago with each of the foods, the more fun it is to prepare these beautiful and tasty meals!
This steamed fish cake comes in white and red; the semicircular red rimmed slices represent the dawning of the first New Year's day sun, and the red color is also supposed to stand for happiness and joy as well as protection against harm. White signifies sanctity and purity. Red and white are standard celebratory colors, seen at weddings and other festive occasions.
Date is a word that means vibrant and ornate. This is a sweet, soft omelet made of egg yolks (hence the vibrant yellow hue) and fish paste rolled into a spiral shape. The rolled shape (moki means rolled item) refers to the scrolled paper of art or literary works, and embodies recognition and fulfilment of one's artistic or literary ambitions.
The original meaning of mame was physical well-being. It signifies the wish to be able to work for another year in good health. The black color (kuro) of this dish made of savory-sweet black soybeans is also said to have the power to purge evil spirits.
Since ages ago, chestnuts (kuri) have been eaten as an auspicious food. Their gold color and shape is compared to gold nuggets, and thus the dish embodies the wish for a financially prosperous new year!
Kombu (kelp) is a play on the word yorokobu which means to be joyful. Like datemaki, the rolled shape of these tender braised rolls are likened to scholarship and culture, and their auspicious connection with the word joy makes them a must-have dish at all sorts of celebratory occasions.
The yellow and white colors of this egg roulade represent the gold and silver of a beautiful brocade. One of many plays on words used in osechi ryori, nishiki means brocade, and the word sounds like nishoku, meaning bi-colored. It's one of the favorites of the New Year's spread!
These large prawns signify the wish for long, healthy life, age being represented by the curved back and long whiskers of these tasty crustaceans. Their auspicious white and red colors are said toward off bad spirits as well.
The large number of these pin-sized herring eggs symbolizes fertility and the wish to be blessed with many children.
A delicious braised dish consisting mostly of root vegetables all cooked together stands for familial ties and living harmoniously.
BRING OUT THE SPECIAL DISHES!
From ancient times when Japan was an agricultural society, osechi ryori has embodied wishes for a successful crop as well as plentiful descendants. To do justice to this heavily symbolic cuisine, it's served on special dishes and eaten with special chopsticks.
Stacking the layers of the beautifully arranged and usually highly ornamental lacquered box called jubako one on top of the another is seen as piling up the happiness and good fortune of the osechi ryori! The traditional jubako is 4 tiers, but 2-3 tiers is common nowadays. Arrangement
of the food differs according to the customs and conventions of each region and each family.
Celebratory chopsticks presented in an ornate paper folder are called iwaibashi, and are used when eating osechi ryori. They are made of unvarnished willow, considered to be auspicious wood as it is extremely pliable and difficult to split or break. The two tapered ends of the iwaibashi, as opposed to just one end of regular chopsticks, signifies sharing the meal with the ancestral spirits as well as with friends and family. The thicker central section is said to represent fertility of both field and family. Passed down through the ages, New Year's customs, events and foods play a special role in connecting the Japanese people to their past, and making new connections with the younger generation. Marukai has everything necessary for a fine New Year's celebration. Let us help you set the table so we can all share in this wonderful, warm tradition. To one and all.