Wonders of Osechi

arrow"Osechi-ryori" or "Osechi" has been the colourful meal of choice during Japanese New Year since the Heian period. For centuries, Japanese people have celebrated the new year eating Osechi and Ozoni which looks amazing neatly assembled in a Jubako (a special lacquered food box similar to Bento boxes). Originally, Osechi was prepared before the New Year, since during the first three days of the New Year it was a taboo to use a hearth and cook meals except when cooking Ozoni. It was also a time for women to rest and not cook in the New Year. (thank god for the modern day we live in that men love to cook as well!)
However, many people nowadays wonder why we have to keep up with this tradition when other delicious foods are available at the stores. Well, people still prepare (or buy) Osechi because Japanese people find meaning in eating Osechi food during the first few days of New Year. The dishes that make up Osechi each have a special meaning behind celebrating the New Year.
Some examples are:
Daidai (橙), Japanese bitter orange. Daidai means "from generation to generation" when written in different kanji as 代々. Like Kazunoko below, it symbolises a wish for children in the New Year.
Datemaki (伊達巻 or 伊達巻き), sweet rolled omelette mixed with fish paste or mashed shrimp symbolise a wish for many auspicious days. On auspicious days (晴れの日, hare-no-hi), Japanese people traditionally wear fine clothing as a part of enjoying themselves. One of the meanings associated with the second kanji includes "fashionability," derived from the illustrious dress of the samurai from Date Han.
Kamaboko (蒲鉾), broiled fish cake, traditionally slices of red and white Kamaboko are alternated in rows or arranged in a pattern. The color and shape are reminiscent of Japan's rising sun, and have a celebratory festive meaning.
Kazunoko (数の子), herring roe. Kazu means "number" and ko means "child." It symbolises the wish to be gifted with numerous children in the New Year.
Konbu (昆布), a kind of seaweed is associated with the word yorokobu, meaning "joy."
Kuro-mame (黒豆), black soybeans also means "health," symbolising the wish for health in the New Year.
Kohaku-namasu (紅白なます), literally "red-white vegetable kuai," is made of daikon and carrot cut into thin strips and pickled in sweetened vinegar with yuzu.
Tai (鯛), red sea-bream is associated with the Japanese word medetai, symbolising an auspicious event.
Tazukuri (田作り), dried sardines cooked in soy sauce means in kanji "rice paddy maker," as the fish were used historically to fertilise rice fields symbolising an abundant harvest.
Z?ni (雑煮), a soup of mochi rice cakes in clear broth (in eastern Japan) or miso broth (in western Japan).
Ebi (エビ), skewered prawns cooked with sake and soy sauce symbolises the wish for a long-life, suggesting long beard and a bent waist.
Nishiki tamago (錦卵), egg roulade; the egg is separated before cooking, yellow symbolising gold, and white symbolising silver, both of these together symbolising wealth and good fortune.
Now that you know the meaning of each dish in Osechi, you can perhaps enjoy eating Osechi even more...?



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