Wednesday, January 07, 2009

New Year

The Osechi Ryori. Traditional Japanese New Year food. The idea is that the housewife cooks up these dishes during the last few days of the year, to be stored in these pretty boxes and eaten during the first few days of the new year, thereby saving her from having to cook. In reality, several other dishes are cooked and eaten as well, like ozoni (see below), soba noodles, and the housewife gets no rest serving them and the osechi ryori up. Although I have heard of households where indeed, just these cold meats, seafoods and vegetables were served up for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

My MIL buys her osechi ryori, hence we have a really nice one. It just would not be feasible to make all of these dishes yourself, homemade osechi tends to have a much more limited range of dishes. The osechi is being called oretchi on some forums, some foreigners (and Japanese too) hate it so much, and it would get sickening I suppose if this was all you were served for two days, with no hot food, but such is not the case with us.

We had sukiyaki on New Year's day, and ate out at Baskin Robbins, McDonald's and sushi as well over the New Year period. But I really like the osechi, probably because it's all over for us by the end of the first day, and because it's a bought set, cooked nicely with a lot of variety.

Vinegared vegetables inside the grapefruit; mushrooms stuffed with fish paste and next to them the long yellow things are kazenoko, another special New Year food, a kind of fish eggs, very rubbery and grainy, an aquired taste and one I haven't yet acquired; barbecued chicken; dried fish with soy sauce and sesame seeds, this is also a traditional New Year food, as are the next two, prawns and sweet black beans. Next line konyaku (a jelly-like substance made from arum root), and squid; vinegared lotus root and kelp seaweed tied in knots; simmered fern root and rolled pork.

Kamaboko, a kind of fish paste sausage and another kind of minced fish wrapped in bacon; battered deep-fried shrimp in chilli sauce; chicken on sticks with barbecue sauce; a kind of sushi, wrapped in a thin egg omelet and gobo (burdock root) wrapped in eel; peppered rare roast beef and a New Year special sweet; simmered vegetables - taro, beans and cherry-blossom cut carrots; abalone in their shells with boiled bamboo shoots underneath; rolled eggy fishpaste stuff, I'm not really sure what it is but I like it and we ate it in the ozoni too, and New Year sweet mochi (pounded rice) balls on a skewer with granulated sugar coating. I ate all of that one! And finally baby octopuses, I think Kanji at all of those, and scallops.

Some more Japanese New Year traditional foods - on the left, ozoni, which is at its simplest a fish-based broth with pounded rice cakes. Baachan adds white/Chinese cabbage and the big Japanese spring onions that are more like leeks. Then the next day, she made it out of leftover miso soup, so it can have a miso flavoring as well. I really love it. On the right are the sweet black beans. I like these too, though not as much as chocolate of course. Accompanying the beans is another hallowed Japanese tradition, although they would probably deny it - the TV remote. From the famous Red and White song contest (team colors, not song themes) on New Year's Eve, to multiple New Year's special programming, a lack of official activities apart from a visit to a shrine, and no feasting or partying but just special foods eaten at home, a LOT of television gets watched over the New Year holiday

At the kotatsu. The heated table in the centre of the living room where all the action, or rather conspicuous lack of action, takes place at New Year. Kanji guzzling ozoni, Erica trying to get the camera. Another noted New Year activity is the Nap. Here Kanji teaches Erica how it's done.

This particular activity would go down better during a NZ New Year, I think! Here we are eating ice cream at Baskin Robbins. Zoom in to my fabulous sundae, it was superb. The shop was crowded, what does that tell you about the lasting appeal of osechi ryori?

Finally it snowed! On the evening of the first, a beautiful flurry, just when I was venturing out to get some supplies from home for another over-nighter at Baachan's. So here's my little car in the snow, Jiichan's garden, my dwarf gnome looking romantically ghostly and a bush by my front door.

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