Osechi ryori is a special kind of food for the new year. It’s prepared ahead of time and served to people who come to visit over the three-day new year holiday. As a result, most osechi dishes are foods that keep for several days. Traditionally, osechi is served in jubako, which are three-tiered or five-tiered boxes. A lot of osechi foods have symbolic meaning.
Traditionally, people used to prepare most of the dishes at home. But nowadays you can get osechi at department stores or supermarkets. Many homemakers still make some osechi dishes themselves, but they are likely to buy the really labor-intensive ones.
Kuromame are sweet simmered black beans. Black beans are kind of soy bean. They symbolize health.
Kurikinton is a sweet paste made with chestnuts and sweet potatoes. The gold color is a symbol of wealth.
Gobo is a long, thin root vegetable. The root symbolizes stability, and the split ends of the root are supposed to multiply good fortune. Tataki gobo is gobo that is pounded and then simmered with sesame and other flavorings.
Kohaku namasu is a kind of marinated food of carrot and daikon with vinegar. Red and white is a favorable color combination.
Tazukuri is teriyaki flavored dried anchovies, which symbolize a bountiful harvest. An anchovy is a kind of sardine. Sardines used to be used as fertilizer.
Renkon is a kind of root vegetable called lotus root in English. The lotus is a symbol of Buddhism.
Kazunoko is herring eggs, a symbol of family fertility. Each clump of kazunoko consists of hundreds of tiny eggs. They’re crunchy and a little salty.
Kura, salmon eggs, are often found in osechi ryori too. It has the same meaning as kazunoko.
Ozoni is a kind of soup with a rice cake that is eaten as the first meal of New Year’s Day. There are a lot of regional and family variations of ozoni. The most basic kind is made of dashi, a green leafy vegetable like spinach, and mochi (rice cakes). Some people put in sliced kamaboko (fish cake), carrots, shiitake mushrooms, and even chicken.
Mochi is rice cakes made from a special type of sticky rice called mochigome. Mochigome is stickier than regular white rice. Mochi can be used in cooking or in sweets. The simplest way to eat mochi is to grill it and dip it in soy sauce or kinako powder.
Tsukemono is Japanese pickles. They look and taste different from Western pickles. Japanese pickles are not usually marinated in distilled vinegar, like Western pickles. In Japan, vegetables are pickled in various things like salt, koji, and sometimes vinegar.
Some of the most popular kinds of tsukemono are umeboshi (pickled plum), takuan (pickled daikon radish), beni shoga (pickled red ginger), and shibazuke (pickled eggplant).
Tsukudani is food simmered in mainly soy sauce, sugar and mirin. It doesn’t have a watery sauce. Tsukudani is known as a preserved food because it can be stored for a long time. It goes very well with white rice.