The Concept of Osechi Ryori
A traditional feast is observed in Japan at the start of the New Year. People go back to their hometowns, pay a respectful visit to their local shrine, and enjoy traditional food. That traditional food is the popular osechi ryori, granted a status as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
This practice goes back to the Heian period (794-1185). Ritual offerings of food are conducted to be presented to the gods on sechinichi days. These days marked the changing of the seasons based on the traditional Chinese almanacs. Some days are more important than others, and by far the most important one is the beginning of the New Year. On this day, special dishes were offered to various gods and members of the elite society partake of it as well.
Long been practised, this tradition soon spread to the rest of society and by the Edo period (1603-1868), they were being practiced commonly around Japan. Various beliefs came about, curiously and especially that on the first days of the New Year, any kind of work – including cooking – was to be avoided. One theory suggests that the deities shouldn’t be disturbed on these days by the sounds of cooking, or that those who are preparing the foods, especially women, should enjoy their rest and not have to work.
The osechi then was only simple food, like vegetables boiled in soy sauce and vinegar. Over the centuries, many more food varieties were added such that it became a more elaborate affair. These dishes have a special meaning.
Black beans, called Kuromame, mean health, so that a person can be able to work hard in the coming year. Kazunoko is herring roe, means many children. Kōhaku kamaboko is a red and white fish cake not only represents the Japanese flag colors, but also mean evil spirits (red) and purity (white). Tazukuri is sardines boiled in soy sauce and symbolic of a plentiful harvest. Datemaki is an omelette mixed with mashed shrimp or fish paste, associated with learning and scholarship. Kurikinton are sweet dumplings out of chestnuts.; yellow in color, associated with gold and financial prosperity. Kobu is connected to the word yorokobu, or happiness. Tai is made into the traditional food that is fed to a baby 100 days after birth; it’s meant to bring joy and happiness in the new year. Shrimp and Soba both mean longevity.
So if you’re invited to an Osechi Ryori, it’s good to know its background and what those foods mean.
New Year with Osechi
Here at Flo in Bellevue, we bring you this very special cuisine in the Japanese tradition of Osechi Ryori. Greet the New Year with our wide exquisite selections set in beautifully crafted presentations.