Friday, January 2, 2009

Osechi-ryōri - Japanese New Year Bento & Cuisine

"Osechi ryori" is what most people in Japan eat at the beginning of the new year. Regardless of how many times you splurge at a popular Japanese restaurant, osechi isn't something you'll ever find on a Japanese menu. Its time and place are the first few days in January, in the Japanese home.
Osechi ryori was originally a way for housewives (and their families) to survive the first several days of the New Year, when stores throughout Japan were closed. The foods that make up osechi can be prepared in advance and then sit out in a cool area for a few days without spoiling. Most often everything is placed in compartmentalized lacquer boxes similar to bento boxes that are called jūbako and are stacked in layers.

Osechi-ryori Components:
(herring roe) - tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko you often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.
Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.
Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.
Kombumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kombumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

Datemaki looks like the tamago-yaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it's made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It's quite sweet.
Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.
Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year's colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.
Another red-and-white food you'll find is called namasu - typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.
For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.
Konnyaku (devil's-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.
For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.


Love For Obento said...

that box looks like the one that my husband got me for my birthday! i haven't used it yet because he said those types of boxes (mine is also the 3-tier box) are only used for special i don't think i could find enough food at my house to fit into a box that big, lol.

jomamma said...

Very interesting... I wish we had guided tours of the Asian food markets and a tasting bar where I could try out all the different foods.