Osechi (New Year’s Dish)
Osechi (おせち), the abbriviation of O-sechi-ryori, is a traditional New Year’s Dish which is severed in multi-tiered lacquered boxes called “ju-bako”(重箱).
Many years ago, Japanese people offered special food to the gods on the occasion of five different “sekku” (big festivals). These five were Nanakura, Hina Matsuri, Children’s Day, Tanabata and Chrysanthemum Festival. After the food was presented to the gods it was then enjoyed by the family. It was called “O-sechi (節)-ryori” because it referred to meals eatedn on “sekku” (節句).
Today, it has the specific meaning of festive food enjoyed at New Year’s. In samurai times the food was very spartan but nowadays it is quite elaborate and varies from region to region and family to family.
Osechi is intended to save Japanese housewives the trouble of cooking during the busy New Year’s holidays, so that they can take a break even for a few days, and it is also characterized by its strong overall flavor so that it can be preserved.
Osechi is also stuffed with dishes that bring good luck. For example, boiled shrimp (Ebi no Onigara-yaki) symbolize longevity because they are bent like an old person.
Nowadays, there are Osechi dishes prepared by chefs from famous restaurants, and there are ways to buy them for home use or as gifts. At department stores, food samples of gorgeous Osechi dishes are lined up at the beginning of December. These usually cost an average of about 30,000 yen (3 tiers).
The latest trend is that Osechi dishes are now sold individually at hundred-yen stores, and even with a budget of 1,000 yen, you can choose your favorite dishes to make a customized Osechi dish.