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The New Year cuisine - Japanese style.

Hello everyone :) I hope you had a great New Year! Here's a little follow-up to my post about Japanese New Year.

  • Osechi Ryori (おせちりょうり - 御節料理) is the most important meal of the year, eaten during the New Year's celebrations. Each dish is symbolic, they connote wishes for the next year. The food is often eaten in a special way by using chopsticks that are rounded on both ends; one side for humans to use, one side for the gods, so that the gods are welcome to take part in the celebration.

The dishes depend on the regions and family tradition, there are many variations but some of the dishes appear commonly in the New Year's menu.

  • Kuromame (黒豆) - black soy beans seasoned with sugar and soy sauce.

The word "mame" (まめ) sounds similar to mameni-hataraku (マメに働く) - work hard; the meaning of kuromame is to be in good health in order to work hard in the coming year. Also according to Taoism, the color black is a protection against evil spirits.

  • Kazunoko (数の子) - herring roe.

The large number of tiny eggs and the meaning of the words "kazu" (number, several) and "ko" (children) symbolize the wish for being blessed with many children, fertility and also good harvest. The word for herring is "nishin", "nishin" (二親) can also mean "two parents".

Another variant is ikura (イクラ) - salted salmon roe:

  • Tazukuri (田作り) - dried anchovies (baby sardines) cooked in soy sauce.

Historically, the sardines were used as fertilizers for rice fields; it translates as "making rice fields" or "rice field maker" and symbolizes abundant harvest. Other word for those sardines is gomame (ごまめ - 古女) and means "50 000 grains of rice".

  • Gobo (ごぼう - 牛蒡) - burdock root.

Those roots are hard to cut and grow deep into the ground, they symbolize strength and stability, sometimes also long life and strong family line. Gobo can also mean pentagram (五芒) - in Shinto religion, five pointed star used to symbolize the five basic elements: fire, water, earth, metal and wood.

Another way of serving gobo is gobo konbumaki (牛蒡昆布巻) – burdock root wrapped in konbu (こんぶ - 昆布) - edible kelp, tied with "kampyo" (かんぴょう - 乾瓢) - gourd strip, and simmered in niboshi dashi (にぼしだし -煮干出し), which is a broth made from dried baby sardines. "Konbu" sounds like "yorokobu" (よろこぶ - 喜ぶ), which means "joyful", "to be delighted".

  • Konbumaki (昆布巻き) - dried herring wrapped in konbu seaweed, tied in a bow with kampyo or hoshi daikon (ほしだいこん -干し大根) - dried radish strips.

Konbu symbolizes joy and being happy, and also many offspring when written with kanji子生 (childbirth). Other variations of konbumaki often use salmon (sake no konbumaki (鮭の昆布巻き) - salmon kombu roll) or other fish, sometimes even meat.


  • Datemaki (だてまき - 伊達巻き) - sweet omelette with hanpen (はんぺん - 半片) - fishpaste, or mashed shrimp, bound with makisu (まきす - 巻き簾) - bamboo mat, to make the outer surface ribbed.

The golden color and ribbed sun-like shape symbolize the wish for many sunny days; the scroll-like shape also symbolizes a wish for learning, development, scholarship and culture, because in the past, Japanese people traditionally rolled up important documents or paintings.

  • Kohaku Kamaboko (こはくかまぼこ - 琥珀蒲鉾) or simply Kamaboko (かまぼこ - 蒲鉾) - Japanese broiled fishcake in the shape representing the first sunrise of the year, the pieces are colored red (pink) and white and usually put in alternating layers.

Nowadays, they come in many colors:

"Kohaku" (こうはく - 紅白) means "red and white"; the color red is believed to ward off evil, while white symbolizes purity; those are also the colors of Japan's flag. Kamaboko has a celebratory and festive meaning.

  • Kuri Kinton (くりきんとん - 栗金団) - mashed sweet potatoes and candied chestnuts, usually in the form of round dumplings.

They're yellow in color and the word "kinton" means "golden dumpling" or literally "group of gold"; they symbolize wealth, prosperity and financial success. Another word for "dumpling" is "dango" (だんご - 団子).

  • Kohaku namasu (こうはくなます - 紅白膾) - salad consisting of white daikon radish and "red" carrots with vinegar.

It's meaning is similar to that of kohaku kamaboko, symbolizing a good omen.

  • Kikuka kabu (きっかかぶ - 菊花蕪) - pickled turnips cut to resemble chrysanthemum flowers.

It translates as "chrysanthemum turnip"; chrysanthemum plant (Japanese national flower, along with the cherry blossom sakura (さくら - 桜)) is believed, according to Chinese tradition, to protect from evil and grant long life. It's often decorated with red vegetables, for example chili pepper, to give it national coloring. The chrysanthemum flower is also the royal seal of the imperial family. The symbolism of this dish is celebration and longevity.

  • Yakizakana (やきざかな - 焼き魚) - grilled fish.

It symbolizes success and successful career; some fish also have specific meanings.

  • Surume (するめ - 鯣) - dried Japanese common squid.

Also known as ika (いか - 烏賊) (it's variant ikayaki (いかやき -烏賊焼き)- grilled squid, is often served at festivals); a symbol of celebration.

  • Ebi (エビ/えび - 海老) - shrimp.

Because of it's appearance: long antennae similar to mustache - hige (ひげ - 髭), curved, "hunched" body (to have a hunch/bent back: こしがまっている - 腰が曲がっている); and the meaning of kanji (海老 - "old man of the sea"); they represent longevity and growing old; the shrimp also symbolizes renewing life because of molting it's skin. The most common household variety is kuruma ebi (くるまえび/クルマエビ - 車海老), tiger shrimp but a more refined version is ise ebi (いせえび - 伊勢海老), Japanese spiny lobster.

The red color of the shrimp is supposed to ward off the evil, just like kohaku kamaboko. Other dish examples are: ebi no shioyaki (えびしおやき - 海老の塩焼き) - grilled/salted shrimp, and ebi no umani (えびのうまに -海老の旨煮) - simmered shrimp.

  • Renkon (れんこん/レンコン - 蓮根) - lotus root.

It has many holes when cut, which symbolizes an unobstructed and foreseeable the future, just as the holes are easy to look through. In Buddhism, lotus is also considered a symbol of purity, as it is believed to grow in the heavenly pond where Buddha lived.

  • Satoimo (さといも/サトイモ - 里芋) - taro root.

One taro plant produces many roots; it expresses the wish for many children and continuing family.

  • Kuwai (くわい - 慈姑) - root of the Sagittaria plant, known as “Katniss”.

It sprouts from a single root and has the long, extended shape; it symbolizes a successful, growing and steady career.

  • Tai (たい - 鯛) - sea bream.

It is associated with the word "medetai" (めでたい - 目出度い), which means "happy", "auspicious", " congratulatory". It's often eaten on special occasions, such as weddings and celebrations; it's also part of the okuizome (おくいぞめ - お食い初め) - literally "weaning ceremony", the traditional food that a baby is fed about 100 days after they are born. It expresses wish for joy and happiness in the coming year. It's also called "sakana no osama (さかなのおうさま - 魚の王様)", "king of fish". There is a Japanese saying kusattemo tai (くさってもたい - 腐っても鯛) - "even if it's rotten, it's still sea bream", meaning that even if something is not what it once was, it is still high quality.

  • Buri (ぶり/ブリ - 鰤) - adult yellowtail fish.

The fish are called different names as they grow, which means they are "shyusse uo" (しゅっせうお - 出世魚) - "a fish that gets a promotion". This dish is considered lucky for those seeking a promotion.

  • Nishiki Tamago (にしきたまご - 錦卵) - egg roulade, with egg yolk and whites separated into layers.

The white represents silver and the yellow yolk symbolizes gold; it's meaning is good fortune and prosperity.

  • Otafuku mame (おたふくまめ - 阿多福豆) - large broad bean.

It contains both of kanji for "many" (多) and "fortune" (福); it represents a wish for good fortune.

  • Hoshigaki (ほしがき - 干し柿) - dried persimmon.

Because it's skin resembles that of an old person, it symbolizes having a long life.

  • Daidai (だいだい - 橙) - Japanese bitter orange.

"Daidai" (だいだい - 代々) also means "for generations"; it represents a wish for continuing family and many children.

  • Ozoni (おぞうに - お雑煮)

  • soup made of rice cakes (mochi) in clear broth, dashi (in eastern Japan, Kanto-style: 関東風お雑煮), miso broth (みそ - 味噌) made of fermented soybean (in western Japan, Kansai style: 関西風お雑煮) or chicken broth. There are many regional variations

  • Zenzai (ぜんざい - 善哉) - soup made of azuki (あずき - 小豆) sweet red beans, served with mochi (toasted rice cakes) or shiratama dango (mini rice cakes).

It's translation means "well done"; it's not necessarily part of osechi ryouri, but it serves as a warm-up soup during the cold winter months.

  • Nimono (にもの - 煮物) - boiled or stewed food / Chikuzenni (ちくぜんに - 筑前煮) - chicken stew / Onishime (おにしめ - お煮しめ) - vegetable simmered dish. Popular New Year Japanese dish, but also is ordinarily served throughout the year. It may include shiitake mushrooms (しいたけ - 椎茸), burdock root, lotus root, taro root, devil’s tongue (こんにゃく - 蒟蒻) - konnyaku, carrots, and snow peas (きぬさや - 絹さや).

  • Douzo Meshiagare! - どうぞめしあがれ! (どうぞ召し上がれ!) - Enjoy your meal! (it's said by the cook that prepared the meal)

My repository thread

What about you, what food is a traditional Christmas/New Year food in your country? What did you have this year? For me, it was red borscht and dumplings with mushrooms, along with spiced fried fish :)

January 5, 2018



All these dishes look so elegant! Thanks for the explanations on their symbolism!


We used to have some of these dishes--but the younger generation doesn't like all of them, and as families change, other dishes become tradition. Some of these I have never seen. But thanks for the time and care in preparing this list!


We had miso soup, lotus root salad, grilled fish and kimpira (burdock and carrot) for dinner tonight. With purple rice, which is in no way Japanese, but I like making it.


Thanks very much for the wonderful information. Where I live tamales are the traditional Christmas Eve dish.


They look Yummy!

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