Menu examples osechi

Osechi New Year’s Day meal, 2017

Finally, I was able to make a tasty reduced-sodium version of ozoni soup, ganmodoki to warabi no nimono tofu patties and bracken simmered in broth, and ebi no umani shrimp in broth. This marks a big step forward from previous years’ osechi.

I skipped making chrysanthemum flower-cut kabu Japanese turnip marinated in sweetened vinegar as we could not find the vegetable, but I missed the sweet and fresh taste of kabu, which provides a nice contrast to other dishes and works great to refresh your mouth. The appearance of plates and bowls when placed on each tray seemed to lack something as well. The bright green camellia leaves that accompany chrysanthemum flower-cut kabu usually tighten the overall scene, and without the leaves, the picture looked a bit fuzzy. You notice how important something is only when it is not there.

To supplement the decorative aspect, I made surenkon [lotus root marinated in sweetened vinegar] in a celebratory color pair — white and red. For the red/pink version, I put a few beet slices in its marinade and by the next morning each piece of lotus root was beautifully tinted a faint pink. Then I forgot to check again, and by the next time I opened the container, the pieces were pinkish purple, a not very appetizing hue. Oh well. Errors are okay, as you learn from them. Surenkon will be better next year.

This year we had a full New Year’s Day meal as below with friends in the early afternoon.

  • Ozoni / New Year’s Day soup with mochi rice cakes
  • Kuromame no fukumeni / slightly sweet soy sauce-flavored black soybeans: Mame [beans] also signify health
  • Kinkan namasu / daikon radish and kumquat in sweetened vinegar marinade: Substitute for kohaku namasu [daikon and carrot in sweetened vinegar; red (carrot) and white (daikon) are a celebratory combination]; the first Chinese character in kinkan [kumquat] means gold, thus implying financial luck
  • Tazuna kamaboko / fishcake with rein-cut top
  • Sakana to saishin no tamagoyaki / omelet with fish and yu choy sum: Substitute for datemaki seafood omelet for intellectual enhancement and cultural appreciation
  • Takiawase / assorted ingredients cooked separately and then put together, including: Warabi to ganmodoki no nimono [bracken and deep-fried tofu patties with ginnan ginkgo nuts & yurine lily bulbs, simmered in broth]; Koyadofu no fukumeni [rehydrated freeze-dried tofu simmered in light broth]; Umeninjin no nimono, shoga-aji [plum-blossom cut carrot simmered in light ginger-flavored broth, plum blossoms symbolize early spring]; Yabane kinusaya [snow peas cut in arrow-shaft feather shape, the arrow shaft wards off evil sprints]; and Konnyaku no nimono [rein-cut konnyaku yam cake simmered in spicy broth]
  • Satoimo no misoni, yuzu-fumi / baby taro root simmered in miso and yuzu flavored broth: Taro root is a symbol of productivity, for family prosperity with descendants
  • Ebi no umani / shrimp in light soy sauce-flavored broth: Bent form for longevity
  • Gindara no saikyo-yaki / grilled Saikyo-miso marinated black cod: A standard addition to our osechi
  • Hotate no yuan-yaki / grilled yuan marinated sea scallops: Another standard with our osechi
  • Surenkon / lotus root marinated in sweetened vinegar: See-through holes for a good perspective
  • Hikozuri / sauteed bamboo shoots in miso and sesame sauce: Takenoko bamboo shoots quickly reach for the sky, symbolizing healthy growth (for children), prosperity of family and success in life
  • Nanbanzuke / deep-fried fish marinated in spicy sweetened vinegar: One of standard party dishes
  • Omiki celebratory sake: Dassai (Yamaguchi Prefecture) & Masumi (Nagano Prefecture)
  • Desserts: Satsumaimo no ukishima / steamed shiroan bean paste cake with roasted sweet potato; Kuri chakin / mashed steamed chestnuts, roasted sweet potato and shiroan

While going over some stories of auspicious osechi dishes with our friends, Tom asked, “Is there anything here that brings bad luck?”
An interesting question (in terms of being a unique idea, if positively put), but of course not. There are customs of not celebrating or not sending New Year’s greetings during a period of mourning, for example, but who would wish misfortune on yourself?

Prior to the full meal with our friends, we had a small breakfast by ourselves. Breakfast included ozoni soup, kuromame black soybeans, kohaku namasu daikon & carrot in sweetened vinegar, kamaboko fishcake, koyadofu, snow peas, shrimp and scallops.

While eating, we chatted about how the fish is good this year, the soup is a bit too weak, the fishcake is particularly good, the beans are perfect, and so on. Then I realized, we are the only people who understand what this particular breakfast is all about, the details of subtle differences in taste and texture, and where the differences come from. It is like a little special secret we share, and I felt privileged.

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