Japanese cuisine goes beyond cooking itself. Perhaps no other cuisine in the world is so deeply embedded in the culture of a people as Japanese food. While Japan’s rich and fascinating culture is still little known in the west, Japanese foods like sushi, tempura, and tofu are becoming more and more familiar to westerners, though they are still difficult to define in their complexity.
Deriving its meaning from old traditions, Japanese dining is full of ritual significance. Everything is important, from the guests’ seating order, to the table manners; from the order of the servings, to the color of food. Fresh and healthy, the cooking of Japan is natural and in harmony with the seasons. It reflects the love of Japanese people for ornamentation, decoration, and celebration.
The presentation of a meal is an art to be enjoyed with the eyes before being tasted. Magi gave me a demonstration of her abilities when she invited me and my family to join hers for the Osechi New Year’s dinner. The Japanese people consider New Year’s one of the most festive times of the year. Especially during the first three days of January, most families try to reunite and gather all their members together. It was an honor to be invited, and Magi prepared an unforgettable meal.
Dating back some 1,000 years, Osechi-ryori originally referred to banquets held to celebrate the transition from one season to the next. It is one of the most exciting and elaborate examples of Japanese dining, full of variety, vivid colors, and appealing flavors. The menu varies from one region to the other, but traditionally, the assortment includes many pickled, smoked, and marinated dishes that can be prepared in advance, with little extra work to be done on the main days of celebration.
The word “Osechi” means seasonal festival. The food that was served as a way to celebrate, to wish for a good harvest, and to keep the bad spirits away on these occasions was called “Osechi Cooking.” There are five seasonal festivals per lunar calendar, but nowadays “Osechi” specifically refers to the one prepared for the New Year. The authentic Osechi plate that starts the meal not only looks beautiful and has excellent nutritional balance, but each item is also filled with good wishes of long life, happiness, promotion, success, etc. This was followed by Chikuzen (seasoned vegetables), Sekihan (sticky rice), and Ozouni (traditional soup).
Enjoy a sample of Magi’s delicious cooking with the step-by-step Chirashi Sushi recipe that follows.