One of my favourite gatherings is the Kitchen Nippon cooking classes I attend in Tokyo.
As the renown chef, Julia Child said
People who love to eat are always the best people.
On Sunday, I attended a great gathering of these best people and we learnt how to make a selection of Osechi Ryouri, or Japanese traditional New Year’s food. There were 20 participants, Kiwis, Americans, Japanese and French. We not only learnt about making the dishes we also learnt a lot about the cultural significance of each dish and the symbolism it holds. Of course, the best part was eating our creations after!
Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.
Mark Kurlansky, ‘Choice Cuts’ (2002)
Osechi Ryouri is traditionally made in the days leading up to New Year and from New Year’s day it is eaten over three days and the mother would not have to cook at all during that time. For that reason, it is usually eaten cold.
You have to taste a culture to understand it – Deborah Cater
Here are the 7 tasty morsels we made. I will share the symbolism of each dish. Starting from the left in the front row we have
Shrimp when cooked turn a red colour which is very auspicious in Japan and a symbol of celebration. As we cooked them we were told it was important to make sure the back was rounded and not straight. The rounded tail and the long whiskers of the shrimp are symbolic of people who have reached old age and symbolise the desire for a long and prosperous life.
Saikyou Miso Matsukaze Yaki
This is a very tasty dish made from chicken mince meat and seasoned with ginger, miso and soy sauce.
The symbolism is in the name and in the shape of the dish. The shape represents a fan opening or widening. The image is of looking out over a broadening future full of opportunity.
The name comes from an ancient Noh play. It is a sad story of love and separation. The sad young girl tries to dance her sorrow away. This is seen as a type of flamboyance, the side of the dish that is showing with the poppy seeds and green seaweed. On the back, they are coated with nothing. In Japanese, we can say “Ura ga Nai” The common meaning of this is that someone is not hiding anything. This dish is a reminder to upfront and honest.
Yuzu Amazake Namasu
A delicious citrus salad of finely julienned carrot and Daikon radish. Again the symbolism lies in the colour and shape of the food.
The thin white strips of Daikon and the red of the carrot represent the white and red strings of good fortune which are tied around gifts and envelopes of money present in happy times such as weddings or New Year’s gifts of money to children.
Back row Left to right
A special Egg roll
Again colour and shape are the key to the cultural symbolism of this dish. Yellow is seen as the colour of gold or wealth. They are rolled like a scroll. Scrolls represent knowledge and scholarship as in the past important writings and painting were done on scrolls. There are various rolled dishes in Osechi Ryouri because of this symbolism.
Sesame Miso Renkon
Renkon is the lotus root. It has holes that can be seen clearly through. It symbolises an outlook for success. I am not sure, but I wonder if it also has a Buddhist connection as buddha sat on the lotus an Osechi Ryouri does have its roots in Buddhism.
This is small dumpling made from sweet potato. The green was achieved by adding matcha and was just a nice touch to add colour and new taste. We boiled the potato with a dried Geranium flower to enhance the yellow colour.
The colour symbolises wealth and prosperity and this is reflected in the name too, as “Kin” means gold or money. “Kinton” can me a golden futon or sleeping mat but it is also a metaphor for gold ingots or nuggets. This dish represents good luck in competition and financial dealings.
Kuromame Hitoguchi Nigiri
This is Black Beans cooked in Rice and made into a small rice ball. Apparently this dish can cause family arguments, as some feel it is bad luck when the skin of the beans split due to being roasted before adding to rice.
However the other view is the dark colour represents the farmers who tan up into a dark colour after working hard long hours in the fields. It represents working hard
My finished Osechi Ryouri!
If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him…the people who give you their food give you their heart. — Cesar Chavez
I think this quote could be altered a little to say If you really want to make friends and meet lovely people go to a Kitchen Nippon cooking gathering. These people who teach you about their food give it to you from their hearts.
I look forward to attending many more of their gatherings in the New Year!
In response to The Daily Post Weekly Challenge – Gathering
Yoroshiku Onegai shimasu
Mark Kurlansky, ‘Choice Cuts’ (2002)