It’s a tradition in Japan to eat a certain assortment of foods called ‘osechi’ on New Years Day. It’s an assortment of all types of beans, fish, meats, and vegetables which all require a painstakingly long and elaborate preparation process. Each type of food has a special meaning, so eating it will grant you that good fortune. All of these foods are cooked in such a way as to last for a few days (not immediately perishable), so they can be eaten without refrigeration during the first few days of the new year. This is so that people (well, women) can take a break from the kitchen and enjoy the new year. As most Japanese cuisine goes, the food is just as beautiful to look at as it is to eat, and they are displayed in elegant lacquer boxes.
These boxes usually have 3 levels, each overflowing with lots of delicious food.
Let’s open the lid and look at the top level…
The little fish in the top corner are soy sauce stewed baby anchovies (tazukuri), and they symbolize good harvest. The lobster in the middle is for extravagance, and it also symbolizes longevity, supposedly because long antenaes on the lobster make it look like an old man. The black beans (kuromame) in the front symbolize diligence and living each day with humility. The gold flakes are sprinkled on for that extra ‘bling’ effect. The yellow wedges above that which look like orange wedges are pickled herring roe, or kazunoko, which symbolize fertility.
The second level…
The seaweed wrap in the upper right hand corner symbolizes happiness and joy. The orange and white stuff in the blue bowl in the front is pickled radish and carrots- supposed to symbolize and celebrate the white and red of the Japanese flag. On the left is sake steamed abalone, a popular delicacy in osechi.
The bottom level…
Interestingly, the cooked lotus roots symbolize a good future, because you can look straight through all of those holes right into the future. Every little item in these boxes are made with a certain intention- whether to bring wealth, longevity, good fortune, or to promote health and happiness.
This is a wonderful Japanese New Years tradition that most families celebrate. After we eat this food, we drive over to the shrine and get our blessings for the new year.
Happy New Year!
Random trivia: Did you know that lobster blood is colorless (clear) and flavorless?