Monday, December 28, 2009

Osechi: giant bentos for the New Year

In years past, New Year in Japan would mean closed stores, family get togethers and new year feasting on intricately prepared bentos, designed to last the days before and after the roll over.

By Karn G. Bulsuk

Osechi New Year Bento: Starting at 10,000 yen (100 USD) up to and beyond 100,000 yen (1000 USD)

Osechi, or Japanese New Year cuisine was designed to deal with the fact there used to be nothing on sale during the new year period. Japanese housewives would spend a week preparing foods which could be stored for a few days, and would pack them into bentos for the whole family to eat the days before and after the New Year. I made the small one in the picture above in a cooking class, and it took the entire day even with things already prepared prior to the session.

In modern Japanese, this tradition still exists but many families opt to buy osechi bentos instead of spending time and effort to make them. They normally start at around 10,000 yen (100 USD) and can reach for the sky, especially if the bento is made by renowned chefs or restaurants.

It’s still a nice time to spend with family, and like the turkey of Thanksgiving or the minced pies of Christmas lore, osechi is a heartwarming start to the New Year.


  1. I made it, which is why it doesn't look that great :P

    Altogether though, I think my one cost several thousand yen once you add all the ingredient costs up. We did it in a cooking class so overall it must've been cheaper than if we did it individually.

    I also added another picture of what it's supposed to look like ^^

  2. Christmas dinner in a bento box. Interesting. Did you also make the bentos on the bottom? (with the lobster?) What kind of goodies are inside these Osechi NY bentos?

  3. Well, I suppose you could put it that way Wynnie :p

    I didn't make the one on the bottom - just copied a Wikipedia picture to better illustrate what a full version would look like. I can't remember exactly what should be there - there are also speciality New Year foods like mochi and soba as far as I can remember, but gotta look the rest up ^^

  4. Just did a quick google and this site came up:

    Just to summarise: "Many of the food items represent prosperity, good fortune and health."

    Osechi-ryori components:

    Kazunoko (herring roe) - tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko you 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.

    Kombumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kombumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.

    Datemaki looks like the tamago-yaki (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.

  5. Wow, incredible, I have always wanted to try to make one.

  6. Miss Hatton

    It's hard and time consuming, but I'm sure there might be classes where you are just before the New Year. Alternatively, you could start making simple bento dishes and placing them into a bento box - Japanese cooking is as much presentation as it is the food :)