By Rei H.
One of the most important holiday dishes in Japan is Osechi, which people traditionally savor to celebrate the arrival of the New Year and to make wishes for joy, health, longevity, fortune, prosperity, bright future, and fertility.
Osechi is served in special display boxes called jūbako, which are stackable square boxes with a lid on top. In Japan, stacking layers symbolizes the repeated good fortune. Each item in an Osechi box has a special meaning to wish the best luck for the New Year. Some examples:
- Black soybeans: Health – Soybeans represent health and hard work, which bring luck.
- Prawns: Longevity – The bent back and long beard shape of prawn symbolize longevity.
- Herring roe (fish eggs): Fertility – Many eggs represent the big family with lots of children.
- Red and white broiled fish cake: The semi-cylindrical shape is reminiscent of the sun rising, which implies hopes, renewal, and bright future. The red and white colors give a celebratory and festive essence.
- Sweet chestnuts paste: Fortune – The color of the paste represents gold.
In addition to Osechi, Japanese eat rice cakes called Mochi instead of cooked rice during the New Year holidays. Usually, Mochi is served in a bowl of soup called Zouni or sweet red bean soup. Because of its stretchy and gooey texture, eating Mochi symbolizes longevity.
The Osechi is prepared to last for at least the first three days of January. In the past, people were not able to buy fresh produce since grocery stores were closed during the New Year holidays. Also, a New Year holiday is the only time for everyone, especially women in the kitchen, to relax for a couple of days without cooking for the family.
New Year’s Kagami Mochi and Zouni (Mochi in soup) by Rei H.
For me, nothing kicks off the New Year without enjoying traditional Osechi and Mochi. The taste of these holiday dishes, the presentation, and the smiles of family around the table simply take me to a journey of hope and happiness. This Japanese New Year holiday spirit brings me such a special time to feel my blessings and fortunes.
So what taste of the season makes you feel special? I wish you all a great Thanksgiving and a holiday season with great savory food on the table to celebrate the holidays with your loved ones.