World Cuisine - Japan
New Year's Day is getting very close, and I keep thinking of the Soba-noodle called “toshi-koshi Soba” (literally passing the year soba) that we would eat on New Year’s Eve, and Osechi-Ryori we would have on New Year’s Day. The hype starts months before the New Years with preparation for colorful, whimsical display of wishes for the New Year. You can see some pictures and explanations of each part of Osechi-Ryori and the meanings behind them here.
The article on Savory Japan highlights the significance of Osechi-Ryori during the New Year celebration. “The Japanese believe that New Years is the time to start afresh. Old debts are paid off, arguments are settled, and the whole house is given a good cleaning. Just like other people around the world, we reflect on the past year and resolve to become better human beings in the New Year. This extends to our spiritual life as well. In order to truly start the year in the most positive and pure way possible, all housework and cooking is to be finished by December 31, so that January 1st can be spent enjoying time with family and friends. All but the most vital shops close from December 28 to January 3rd. So, as you can imagine, it takes quite a bit of work and planning to keep a well stocked table. This type of New Years cuisine even has its own name; Osechi-ryori.”
Here is a beautifully illustrated art by Rie Nicheco with ingredients and parts of the Osechi-Ryori. All these ingredients are cooked in advance so they can last for weeks, even months during the busy season. When they are finally ready to be consumed on New Year's Day, they are usually accompanied by Ozoni, a hearty soup with mochi (rice cake) inside.
To balance the rich and intense flavors of Osechi-ryori, what I looked forward to most as a child was Ozoni during the New Year’s holiday. As the link shows, Ozoni base and ingredients can vary quite a bit depending on the region you are in. Where my family is from in the Kanto area, the Ozoni was mostly clear-broth based, with chicken and vegetables added.
Here is a recipe of clear-broth Ozoni, which contains baked mochi and is such a delightful soup on a cold winter day. It is quite easy to make, and your own substitution for broth, vegetables and meat will be acceptable in most cases. Try it out and share in the feeling of starting a brand New Year!
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