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Osechi ryori

Osechi

To the Japanese the first day of the New Year is the most important and auspicious. Since it symbolizes the year that' just begun, the day should be full of joy and void of any stress, conflict or anger. In times past no work was to be done by anyone; this included mercifully cleaning, washing dishes and other household tasks. So in order for (by and large) wives and kitchen staff to enjoy the festivities, osechi ryori, or special New Year cuisine, was developed. Most items are prepared in such a way that they can be stored without refrigeration for the up to four days the festivities usually last.

While each household used to prepare its own osechi, with preparations starting as early as December 25, nowadays many restaurants and department stores offer a wide variety of osechi to make it a truly work-free New Year.

osechi ryoriOsechi ryori differs from household to household but in general it is associated with health, happiness, and a good harvest, and much of the food has special meanings. For example, tai (sea bream) is associated with medetai, meaning joyous or auspicious; konbu (kelp) is almost found in yorokobu, meaning to be glad or happy about; and kazunoko (prepared herring roe) is for the hope of having many children. Osechi cuisine is packed in three or four-tiered lacquer boxes called jubako. Here's what goes in where. Maki Nibayashi

Ichi-no-ju (top tier)
Kuromame (black beans), a symbol of health, are boiled in syrup. Kazunoko, with its myriad of tiny eggs, is a symbol of procreation. It is usually seasoned with soy sauce. Tazukuri symbolizes a good harvest, and consists of tsukudani made with small sardines. Kurikinton is kuri (sweet chestnuts) and mashed satsumaimo (sweet potato) boiled in a sweet sauce. Terigomame are baby sardines simmered in sugar and soy sauce till sticky while datemaki is a sweet cake-like egg that symbolizes knowledge.

Ni-no-ju (second tier)
Most items in this second box are seafood tidbits to be snacked on while imbibing hot sake. Namasu is a salad of shredded daikon (Japanese radish) and carrot seasoned in vinegar. Also included are: vinegar-seasoned octopus, vinegar and lemon juice marinade of squid, cucumber, grilled shrimp, and Japanese turnip. Marinated pond smelt is also popular.

San-no-ju (third tier)
The third box holds mostly vegetables and roots. Most vegetables in this box are seasoned with sugar, stock and soy sauce and pair well with rice. Broiled taro, twisted konnyaku and other root vegetables are common.

Yo-no-ju (fourth tier)
Nishime (simmered root vegetables) is comprised of artistically arranged vegetables such as carrot, gobo (burdock root), renkon (lotus root), yatsugashira (taro), etc.

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