New Year is getting closer and closer now! Even though it still feels like I just came into 2017!
New Year is a period of celebration all over the world. In Japan, to celebrate this kind of festival, everything must be special, including FOOD. Let’s explore what Japanese people, especially Tohoku people, eat during New Year.
The first dish is Osechi-ryouri (お節料理). It is a special set of food which is eaten only during the New Year period. Several kinds of food are delicately arranged in a box. Traditionally, this set of food would be divided and eaten for three days from the 1st to 3rd of January, so it contains a variety of delicious dishes of huge amounts! Traditionally, Osechi-ryouri is be cooked by each family; but these days you can order it from restaurants or supermarkets. The price depends on the popularity of the restaurant, and can reach upwards of several tens of thousands of yen or even hundred thousands of yen.
The menus in the box not only look beautiful, but also come with a positive meaning. The name of the food may be similar to a word of good fortune: Tai fish (red snapper) is similar to the word “Medetai” which means celebration, the word “Kombu” in rolled Kombu seaweed is similar to Yorokobu which means joy, etc.
Moreover, some kinds of food have a positive meaning because of their shape; for example, Datemaki (rolled egg) has a scroll-liked shape implying wisdom. Some of them are auspicious colors, which are red and white, meaning amulet and purity respectively. Therefore, a number the foods in Osechi-ryouri have a red and white color, for instance, red and white Kamaboko fish cake, Namasu (vinegar marinated white fish and veggie strips) and red and white pickles.
The food in Osechi-ryouri of each prefecture is different, often featuring famous local dishes. In the Tohoku region, Miyagi prefecture has a special menu, simmered flatfish with roe (Babagarei). In Aomori prefecture, especially along Sanriku coast, there is a luxurious menu called Ichigoni, which features sea urchin and abalone soup. For Akita prefecture, the famous Akita rice is mixed with carrot, ginger, fish and marinated together, called Hatahatasushi.
On New Year’s Eve, Japanese people will eat crossing-over-of-the-year soba or ‘Toshikoshi soba’. Soba noodle is so soft that is very easy to chew; this means the obstacles of the New Year will be overcome easily. Another feature of soba noodle is its length, so it symbolises long life. You can enjoy Toshikoshi soba hot or cold, with your favorite toppings, as you like!
Fried Mochi with Shoyu Sauce
The last food I will mention in this article, is Mochi or Japanese rice cake, made of pounded sticky rice. Before eating, mochi is grilled or steamed until soft; it will become very stretchy and chewy. The word “Mochi” is similar to the word “Mochi” that means “Having” (money, happiness, etc.), so mochi is the perfect New Year food!
There are a large number of mochi cooking methods. You can grill and eat it plain, dip it in some shoyu (soy sauce), top it with miso sauce, fold in nori seaweed and season with shoyu sauce, eat with zunda (Japanese green soybean paste, a famous product of Miyagi), and so on! However, the most popular ways to enjoy mochi at New Year’s are Ozoni and Oshiruko. Ozoni is a chicken and vegetable soup with grilled mochi. The recipe and flavour differs based on the region; Tohoku people normally use a clear Dashi-based soup. Oshiruko is a sweet red bean soup with grilled mochi. It gives a gentle sweet taste and is perfect for dessert! Just a word of warning…there is a spike in mochi-related deaths over the New Year period! Don’t eat too excitedly, or you might choke!!
At New Year period, there is a huge variety of tasty food everywhere you look in Japan! If you are planning to celebrate New Year’s in Tohoku, don’t forget to explore and taste all of these delicious dishes! Wishing 2018 is a great year for everyone! Happy New Year!!!