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Osechi Ryori: The Best New Year’s Feast!

Karina IkedoKarina Ikedo
Published Time
Posted on 
December 11, 2023
Modified Time
Updated last 
December 12, 2023
An osechi ryori platter.

Ring in the New Year with osechi ryori, one of Japan’s most profound New Year traditions! Osechi ryori comes in boxes full of delicious treats!  It even includes delicious wagashi! Let’s learn more about this festive feast and why it’s so important!

What is osechi?

Osechi is a traditional Japanese New Year food composed of several dishes eaten during the first three days of January. It can be stacked in several layers, usually in three or five-tier jūbako (bento boxes). The multi-tiered boxes symbolize the hope that happiness and wealth come continuously.

A plate of osechi food.
Each osechi dish represents something. Image via Shutterstock

Usually, dishes in osechi ryori are boiled, grilled, soaked in vinegar, or dried. They will last several days to give the family a break from food preparation during this time of year. Each mouthwatering dish has a different meaning and represents a New Year wish. 

When was osechi first created?

Osechi is a traditional cuisine that has been around since the Heian Era that began in 794. Initially, the term osechi-ryori referred to the food served at banquets held by the Heian imperial court. The boxes only contained nimono (cooked vegetables in savory-sweet sauce). As the tradition grew in popularity, so did the offerings.

Small red bowls of osechi food.
There are many unique dishes in osechi! Image via Shutterstock

In the Edo period, people started incorporating these court-exclusive events and habits into their daily lives. Osechi suddenly was no longer exclusive but a delicious custom enjoyed by everybody. 

Why do people eat osechi?

People eat osechi to pray for a bountiful harvest, good health, prosperity of descendants, and safety throughout the year. Osechi ryori also allows families to pause their busy lives and enjoy the new year together. 

Three red lacquer boxes of Japanese New Year's food.
People eat osechi during New Years to avoid having to cook on their day off! Image via Shutterstock

It replaces the festive dinner when families get together for the countdown. The advantage is that people can eat it while it’s still fresh. Most importantly, you enjoy New Year’s Eve without preparing for dinner on December 31st

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What are some famous osechi foods, and what do they mean?

To welcome the New Year with you, here is a selection of popular osechi ryori dishes. Some of these osechi can be expensive, but they’re worth it! We hope you enjoy the spread!

Kuri kinton

A bowl of kuri kinton, candied chestnuts in mashed sweet potatoes.
Kuri kinton’s gold color stands for prosperity! Image via Shutterstock

Kuri kinton are candied chestnuts enjoyed alone or mixed with mashed sweet potato. As the color is yellowish gold, it goes without saying that it represents a wish for wealth. You may find it difficult to eat them as they are pretty sticky. But if you have a sweet tooth, keep some of them on your plate from the beginning of the party.

Kazunoko

A bowl of chopped kazunoko, or herring roe.
There are thousands of eggs in this herring roe, which represent fertility! Image via Shutterstock

Kazunoko (number of children) are crunchy yellow herring eggs marinated in dashi (soup stock). These crunchy roe sacs contain thousands of eggs and symbolize a wish for fertility.

Gomame

A bunch of gomame--candied sardines.
Gomame represent a bountiful harvest. Image via Shutterstock

Made of roasted baby sardines and coated in a sweet soy sauce glaze, gomame is another popular dish for Osechi. It represents a bountiful harvest because its name sounds similar to the word for “50,000 ears of rice”. 

Kamaboko

Slices of kamaboko, fish paste cakes.
Kamaboko represents the rising sun. Image via Shutterstock

Kamaboko are scrumptious broiled fish cakes people enjoy throughout Japan. The quintessential red and white Japanese fishcakes come in slices, with layers in alternating rows. The bands of red and white kamaboko represent the rising sun, one of Japan’s most important symbols! While people usually eat kamaboko with ramen, this is one of the rare times they eat it by itself!

Tai

A whole grilled sea bream, or tai.
Sea bream represents good luck! Be sure to take a good look at it before eating! Image via Shutterstock

In Japan tai (sea bream) is a fish for celebration, and may also bring good luck. People eat sea bream when a child is born or at weddings for prosperity and happiness. Take a look good at the sea bream’s face, and make a wish before eating it to improve your luck!

Ebi

A pair of chopsticks holding ebi, or a large prawn.
Prawn represents a long life because of its long body. Image via Shutterstock

This dish of ebi (prawns) is cooked with soy sauce and sake (Japanese rice wine). This stunning dish adds bright color and delicious flavor. It has a bent back and two antennae that look like a long beard, don’t they? So the ebi on your plate wishes you a long life until you have a bent back and long beard.

Where can I buy osechi?                  

People usually order osechi ryori from a konbini (convenience store), department store, or restaurant to accommodate the busy modern family. Another convenient option many people use nowadays is ordering osechi online from sites such as Rakuten and Amazon.  

Osechi ryori is one of the classic parts of a Japanese New Year’s tradition. Although the flavors may not be everyone’s cup of tea, osechi is something everyone should try at least once! Why don’t you try getting a set this year and pair it with some delicious wagashi as well? What are some of your culture’s New Year’s traditions? Do you have a favorite Osechi dish? Let us know in the comments below!

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