Osechi is the traditional Japanese New Year meal. It’s very special and important. It’s also probably one of the most difficult meals to try if you’re a tourist because most people spend New Year’s Day only with family or close relatives at home, just like Christmas in the West.
Osechi is part of Japan’s culinary heritage and because of that it can’t be modernized or turned into a fusion meal. Each family follows the tradition according to their own tastes. People often say that as homemakers don’t have holidays through the year they make osechi and do major cleaning prior to New Year’s Eve so that they can take a rest from chores for sanganichi (the three days from Jan. 1 to 3), when every family member is home for the holidays. (This also means basically eating the same dishes for three days).
But as the cook in the family, I don’t believe that, because I have more work prior to New Year’s Day preparing osechi, from morning to night for three whole days. It’s a lot of work! Though I do enjoy making osechi.
I want to share two osechi dishes that you can easily make at home and that can also be enjoyed as everyday food.
Matsukazeyaki is Japanese chicken loaf. This normally has poppy seeds or something similar on top but nothing on the bottom. This symbolically conveys the message that you’ve got nothing to hide and will live honestly in the coming year. I used sesame seeds and green nori, but you can use anything you like.
The other dish is kohaku namasu, which is pickled daikon radish and carrot. Kohaku means red and white, which is the most auspicious color combination for Japanese people. If you can get yuzu, it’s nice to make a cup out of the yuzu skin by removing the flesh with a spoon. It will give the salad a really good flavor — and it’s fancy!
All the other New Year’s Day foods also symbolize good things. We eat kobumaki (kelp rolls with fish in them) as the sound of the word “kobu” (kelp) remind us of “yorokobu” (to be happy). Kuromame (simmered sweet black soybeans) are eaten with the wish for living healthily as the word “mame” also means being healthy and working diligently. Kurikinton (mashed yellow sweet potato with chestnut) looks like gold so this represents wealth, and datemaki (rolled omelet) is for good education because it looks like a scroll.
You will be surprised at the profundity of all the food served. I’m sorry that I can’t explain all the dishes and their meanings in this column.
Thank you so much for reading my column this year. Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!
Mari’s recipes for 2 osechi items
⅓ -¼ daikon
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
⅓ tsp salt
1. Peel the daikon and carrot. Cut into matchstick-sized pieces 5 centimeters long.
2. Place daikon, carrot and first portion of salt (½ tsp) in a bowl. Mix well and leave for 10-15 minutes.
3. When the vegetables become soft, squeeze them to remove excess water.
4. Mix ingredients [A] in a bowl then add the vegetables. Mix well and refrigerate for 15 minutes. If you have yuzu, it’s nice to top the salad with a little of the juice and zest.
450 grams ground chicken
½ onion, chopped
1 piece ginger (about 30 grams)
1 tbsp white miso (brown miso can also be used)
1 tbsp brown miso
1½ tbsp flour
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp mirin
1 tsp sugar
1 egg yolk
Poppy seeds or roasted sesame seeds
Aonori (green nori flakes)
1. Pan-fry half the chicken in a non-stick pan until it’s cooked. (You can skip this step, but if you cook half of it in advance more of the flavor will be retained and the texture will be a bit lighter.) Cool. Preheat oven to 180 C.
2. Mix ingredients well. Line a pound cake pan measuring 7x16x5 cm with oven paper, then place chicken mixture in the mold. Bake at 180 C for 30-40 minutes.
3. Brush the top with egg yolk then sprinkle poppy seeds, roasted sesame seeds or aonori seaweed on top. Place chicken loaf in the oven for 1-2 minutes with residual heat just until dry.