Osechi Ryori (New Year’s Day Dishes)Photo by nAok0 on Flickr
Osechi Ryori is the catch-all term for the meticulously prepared, immaculately displayed food that many a Japanese family sits down to eat on New Year’s Day. The last time I had anything like the above was about four years ago when my parents were visiting from the US. I’d always thought of osechi ryori as better shown than eaten, but I was proven wrong that day! Savoring each compartmentalized bite helped me to appreciate my surroundings all the more. I was enjoying the food as art, but it tasted like heaven, too. Here’s a review of some of the things I probably had that day.
Ikura (Salmon Eggs)Photo by adamchamness on Flickr
If you enjoy the taste of caviar, then you will fall in love with the succulent salmon roe often served as part of osechi ryori. If you have a Japanese speaker with you, make sure to check whether the salmon eggs you’re being served are the real thing—you would be surprised by how many restaurants serve a completely fake variation that tastes just enough like the real thing to get them by but is often many times cheaper. Trust me, there is nothing like the real deal.
Kazu no Ko (Compressed Fish Eggs)Photo by [puamelia] on Flickr
These fish eggs are compressed and made into strips which can then be sliced, diced and put into various soups. I would recommend my kazu no ko with a garnish of bonito flakes and parsley, just exactly as the picture above shows. Having some cuban wine to go with it is certainly a creative choice, although I prefer nihonshu (Japanese rice wine) on occasions like this. Japanese alcohol with a Japanese meal, I’d say!
Kuri Zenzai (mochi and bean soup with chestnuts)Photo by midorisyu on Flickr
As I explained in another blog about the fabulous Japanese confection called daifuku, bean paste is simply a staple of traditional Japanese meals and sweets. Get the beans to a savory, soupy consistency, add mochi, and top everything off with chestnuts! Yes, bean paste does take some getting used to. The good news is, you’ll be very happy once you do. 😉
Ozoni (daikon and mushroom soup with a side of lobster or shrimp)Photo by midorisyu on FlickrPhoto by midorisyu on Flickr
Whatever the side dish, it’s the light, slightly tangy broth that makes ozoni soup so tasty for me. Mushrooms and daikon radishes really hit the spot, although you can add other vegetables at your leisure. As for side (or main?) dishes, I prefer shrimp to crab or lobster, as you can usually eat the whole thing, shell and all, without too much trouble. Take your time with all this—I’ve had 15 years to get adjusted.
New Year’s Celebratory Fish (Tai)Photo by midorisyu on Flickr
The tai fish has a special place in Japan, no more so than on New Year’s. It’s the butt of a pun that’s funny if you speak Japanese but weird if you don’t, so I won’t bore you with it—suffice it to say that this “celebratory fish” ends up on everybody’s plate sometime during the New Year festivities. Apparently fish in general and this one in particular was very expensive in prewar Japan. As precious few could get their hands on it, eating one became a special event that signified having been blessed by circumstance. Maybe eating one today is a bit like Thanksgiving? I don’t know, but I do love the taste!
Radish Wrap (daikon-maki)Photo by midorisyu on Flickr
Right now, you’re all looking at your screens and going, “Do you really expect me to eat that?” The truth is, I really don’t—Even as a fan of daikon in general, I don’t know why I would bother. But as I said in the title, when it comes to New Year’s meals in Japan, the display’s the thing! One should really appreciate the art of it all. If you can do that, you’ll be one step closer to enjoying the taste as well.