Osechi Ryori The symbolic meaning behind Japanese New Year Good Luck Food

Happy New Year Akemashite omedetou 
Many of the items served to celebrate New Year’s in Japan have symbolic meaning. It’s starts the night before on New Year’s Eve (oh-misoka ). At this time some Japanese people like to eat Toshikoshi Soba 年越しそば. Toshikoshi means end the old year and enter the new year. A hot bowl of buckwheat noodles eaten to symbolise good luck for the new year a head and it is also said to let go of hardships from the  previous year.  This simple meal of buckwheat soba noodles is served in a hot dashi broth which is full of umami flavour and garnished with chopped green onions. I like to add aburaage to mine instead of the traditional Kamaboko fish cake to make it vegan. For the dashi I use a kombu shiitake dashi then mirin,tamari and yuzu rind. This year I brought back from my trip to Japan some special inaka soba noodles from Shirakawa-go. These noodles are darker in colour and have a much stronger buckwheat flavour. They are made by grinding unhulled buckwheat seeds into a course flour. The result is a thicker noodle without the need for adding a thickening agent called tsunagi.

Start New Year’s Day with a traditional Japanese breakfast. 
This breakfast soup said to be the most auspicious new year food and is part of Osechi Ryori. (Good luck food). Depending on the region in Japan the broth can either be clear or with miso .

Ozoni お雑煮 Enjoyed on the morning of New Year’s Day in Japan.

(Japanese New Year Mochi Soup – Kansai Style) . This style of soup from Kyoto region is made with Saikyo Miso (white miso from kyoto) and a round toasted Mochi. It is even more auspicious to add 5 ingredients.

Kanto style Ozoni (more popular in Tokyo and eastern Japan) which is a clear based soup known as Osumashi made with kombu dashi, mirin and tamari. I like to add a dried shiitake when soaking the kombu to add to the umami. The flavours are very delicate which is typical of Shojin Ryori . Ozoni お雑煮 means mixed boil which relates to the mixed ingredients you can use. This soup was believed to bring good luck to samurai warriors and was served on New Year’s Day. Mochi is served to represent long life because it stretches. Soak the kombu and shiitake over night. Simmer the dashi with carrot and daikon. Add some chopped komatsuna and a slice of Yuzu peel maybe . Toast your Mochi and put it all together. Serve on its own or with some simple rice and pickles, which makes a nice breakfast to start the day.

I make Osechi Ryori 御節料理 or お節料理 every year for New Year’s Day ( Ganjitsu 元日). Osechi Ryori are traditional foods normally packed in a tiered bento box known as ojubuko 重箱 enjoyed on New Year’s Day in Japan. I like to make what significant food I can with vegan ingredients. This year this is what I made. The majority of the food symbolism comes from Shintō and some of the meanings are a play on words.

Nishime 煮しめ (圧力鍋)

one-pot colorful stew of root vegetables, shiitake and koyadofu, simmered in dashi broth seasoned with soy sauce, sake, and mirin. These simmered dishes are called nimono (煮物). The various ingredients cooked together symbolise family unity.

  • Carrot – Welcome spring by shaping carrot into plum or cherry blossom shapes.
  • Lotus root – The holes of lotus root presents a clear and unobstructed future. 
  • Taro – Taro symbolizes fertility or descendants’ cut into hexagon that resembles a turtle shape represents longevity.
  • konnyaku made into a knot shape signifies good relationships and a harmonious family.

Namasu (なます) or also known as Kohaku Namasu (red and white)

(紅白なます) Red and white are considered celebratory colors in Japan and resemble celebratory wrapping strings used on joyous occasions. Julienned daikon and carrot pickled in a sweet vinegar with a hint of citrus. These vegetables symbolise a strong family foundation.

Kuri Kinton (Candied Chestnuts and Sweet Potatoes) 栗きんとんchestnut gold mash. This dish symbolises fortune and wealth for a prosperous year ahead. Japanese sweet potatoes with chestnuts in syrup called kuri kanroni (栗甘露煮.) The kanji for kinto turns into kindan (gold and silver treasures) evoking wealth.

Dried persimmon hoshigaki (干し柿). These ones are pretty special they are stuffed with sweet white bean paste and are a wagashi called Suikanshuku (粋甘粛) . It is traditional to eat dried persimmon over the new year as the wrinkled skin is said to be associated with longevity. The Japanese word for persimmon (not dried is kaki ) which means luck. 

Kuromame 黒豆 are Japanese black beans cooked in sweet syrup and are traditionally eaten at this time eating kuromame is considered good for your health for the new year.

Kuro means black but when the final vowel is extended it can mean hard work. Also mame means bean however again can mean sincere.

So it is said that eating kuromame in syrup for new years translates to those who are sincere and  work hard will have a good new year.

On my trip to Japan this year I stumbled across a store in Hase (kamakura) 2 minutes walk from Enoden “Hase” station, that  Specialize in Kanbutsu 乾物 dried foods ; seaweeds, mushroom shiitake and dried beans They sold a variety of dried foods, including local Shonan specialty hijiki and natural seaweed, as well as carefully selected beans from all over the country.

Ishiwata Genzaburo Shoten 石渡源三郎商店

Unchanged since its founding in the early Meiji era I spotted some hana mame beans (plateau flower beans). The beans from Gunma Prefecture are very large and have a very rich flavour. I had been given a precooked canned variety of these beans cooked in syrup a few years ago so I decided to buy some to make my beans in a sweet syrup this year.

You can use this recipe to make your own kuromame using other black dried beans.

Purple flower beans from Gunma Prefecture

~Delicious way to enjoy~

Rinse the beans in cold water.

Soak one cup of the beans the beans in three cups of cold water and one teaspoon of baking soda over night the day before cooking.

As the beans soak, they will swell

Change the water then boil in plenty of water over low heat until it boils. Once it boils change the water. Repeat this process  3 or 4 times. Then simmer them until they become soft. Whilst they are simmering skim off any scum and keep topping up the water so that the beans are submerged in at least 1 inch of water at all times. Check your beans are soft by pinching one of the beans they should yeild without squashing. This can take up to two hours.

Finally make your sugar syrup seasoning.

Add 2 cups of sugar to 1 and 1/2 cups of water to a pan and simmer to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a syrup to about one cup.

Add the syrup to the beans and simmer.

Let the beans cool completely before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge.

shinodamaki 信太巻き
In the Kansai region, a dish using abura-age is often called shinoda (written as 信太 or 信田).

This originates from the legend of foxes living in the forest of Shinoda, and abura-age, which is believed to be their favorite food. I made shinoda with carrot and daikon tied with gourd known as kanpyo. I also made inari sushi.

Datemaki (伊達巻き) is a rolled sweet omelette. They symbolize a wish for many auspicious days. It resembles a scroll so also symbolises academic success. This year I tried to make a vegan version. I think it came out quite well.

I blended a vegan liquid egg replacer with half a block of silken tofu along with 2 tablespoons of mirin, 1 tablespoon of sake, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce  and 1 teaspoon of vegan honey.
Pour the mixture into a square pan 8×8 inches lined with parchment paper and place it in a preheated oven 180 degrees C  for 25- 30 mins.

It’s done when the top is nice and golden. Lift the cooked mixture out of the pan using the parchment paper. Lay a sushi rolling mat on top of the cooked mixture with the smooth side facing up, flip it over and peel off the parchment paper.

Make slight scores with a knife the same direction as the slats on the bamboo mat be careful not to cut all the way through, this will help it roll. Now roll your datemaki and secure either end with a rubber band. Wrap the hole thing in film and leave over night in the fridge.

Unroll your datemaki and slice.

2024 is the year of the dragon, why not read my next post about what’s in store for us as we head in to the year of the mythical beast.
良いお年を!( Have a great New Year ! )