Osechi ryori is food made to eat the first days of the New Year. The photo above is of osechi ryori I made two years ago (I made most of it, I am still not confident to make kuromame).
Here is a list of just some of the popular items in osechi ryori:
Kazunoko (herring roe) – tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose. They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.
Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.
Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.
Kobumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kobumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.
Datemaki looks like the tamagoyaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it’s made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It’s quite sweet.
Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.
Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year’s colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.
Another red-and-white food you’ll find is called namasu - typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.
For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.
Konnyaku (devil’s-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.
For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.
This time of year all depachika will sell a variety of osechi ryori that can be ordered ahead of time. Some are simple bento boxes with just the basics. Famous ryotei will make a limited number of stacked boxes filled with premium ingredients. Some of these can go for hundreds of dollars. This photo below is Takashimaya’s Tokusen Wafu Osechi featuring items from famous purveyors from throughout Japan.
Suzuhiro has been making kamaboko for 170 years in Odawara, Kanagawa. When I worked at Takashimaya the Suzuhiro shop was directly in front of the sake shop. It was swamped this time of year with customers picking up kamaboko.
Kuromame for me is one of the hardest items to make well and so is better bought. This kuromame is from Nihonbashi Kanmo, a shop famous for its hanpen.
Kurikinton is always the first component to go in our house. It is hard to resist the chestnuts. Marujin is in the historic shitamachi district of Shibamata.
If you are picking up osechi ryori, be sure to pick up a bottle of sake.