Hi,I’m Keiko from Osaka!
One of the biggest celebrations in Japan happens on January 1st.
Yes, it is New Year.
Those of you who experience a fairly simple welcoming of a new year back home may be surprised to see that Japanese new year is bigger than Christmas: some stores are closed; people take a long vacation; and the whole country is on the celebratory mode from the end of December to beginning of January.
For us, this is like a Christmas vacation where family members and relatives gather together.
We start to prepare food several days in advance and we get stuffed when a new year rolls around.
Don’t you wonder what we eat for such a celebration in Japan?
In this article, we will introduce you to 10 dishes that we tend to eat around a new year.
Some are fairly common while others might be surprising even to some Japanese.
Why don’t you pick some of these dishes and experience the Japanese New Year yourself?
1.Osechi/おせちThis may be the most typical of a “new year meal.”
Osechi is not one dish, but kind of like a New Year spread.
Various dishes that have special meanings and hopes for the coming year are stored in jubako, which is like a bento box that is stacked.
Some of the dishes that are typically included in an osechi are: kelp (symbolizes joy), herring roe (wish for numerous children), red and white fish cake (symbolizes the rising sun), black beans (symbolizes health), etc.
2.Zouni/雑煮This is another typical dish, which is basically a soup with mochi (rice cake) in it.
Zouni along with Osechi is a typical first meal of a new year in Japan.
The way to prepare this dish varies depending on which region you are from or even from household to household.
Soup can be either just dashi (fish stock) or white miso based.
Mochi inside can be grilled or simply boiled.
Ingredients vary from meat like chicken, vegetable, to fish, etc.
It might be interesting to visit several households to compare the taste of their zouni.
3.Toshikoshi Soba/年越しそばAnother typical dish associated with welcoming of a new year is toshikoshi soba.
Toshikoshi literally means “year crossing over.” So this dish is eaten on a new year eve, not really on a new year day.
Soba plants are known to withstand hard weather, so this dish signifies letting go of the difficulties one experienced in the passing year.
Also soba noodle, being long, signify long life that people wish for.
4.Nanakusa Gayu/七草粥Nanakusa gayu is seven herb porridge.
We eat this special porridge on January 7th.
The porridge is fairly simple and very light on taste.
We eat this dish to rest our stomach that had worked so hard (!!) during end year and new year celebrations.
The seven herbs included are: water dropwort, shepherds purse, cudweed, chickweed, nipple wart, turnip, daikon radish.
They even sound good for your stomach right?
5.Otoso/お屠蘇Otoso, though it is not a food but a drink, is a medicinal sake consumed during a new year holiday.
Literally, otoso is translated as sake to defeat evil spirits.
Traditionally, people believed that this will take away bad spirits from the previous year.
It is drunk together with osechi.
6.Sushi/寿司Though this is not a dish specially prepared for a new year, sushi is often eaten whenever it is celebratory or when family gathers.
Likewise, sushi often appears on table during the new year holiday, around the time when people get tired of eating osechi, or when even addition to the osechi.
7.Sukiyaki/すき焼きJust like sushi, sukiyaki is also another dish that tend to appear when family gathers or when people celebrate something.
It is rather a premium type of nabe (hot pot), so a new year is a perfect occasion when family members gather around this dish.
8.Yakiniku/焼肉Yakiniku is a Japanese BBQ, which is also a great party meal.
It is fun to grill meat and vegetables with your family and friends, which would be perfect for a New Year gathering.
9.Instant Noodle/Ramen/インスタントラーメンThis one surprised me a bit.
The New Year festivity seems far from instant noodle and ramen.
However, it seems that people get tired of eating the same osechi (which we eat the first several days of a new year).
People become hungry for something else.
What is better than a hot bowl of ramen, that can be cooked quickly.
A perfect meal for a tired body and stomach.
10.Curry Rice/カレーライスThis ranks in for the same reason as the instant noodle and ramen.
When people get fed up with osechi, they crave for a completely different taste, thus the spicy curry rice.
I think it makes sense since dishes in osechi tend to be subtle in their flavor.
Curry rice being one of the most popular food items year around, no surprise that people would want to eat curry rice even during a new year holiday.