Today we combined two great New Year’s Day culinary traditions: Japanese osechi ryori and down-home Hoppin’ John. We didn’t do the full-on osechi menu of 12 or so dishes and we didn’t prepare any of it ourselves: few people do anymore. Instead, we bought a few of our favorite New Year’s sweets from the local supermarket: datemaki (伊達巻), kuromame (黒豆), and kurikinton (栗金団). Datemaki is a rolled spongy omelet made with fish. Our datemaki was made with tai (鯛) or sea bream, an especially lucky fish since its name sort of mimics omedetai, which is a wish for good fortune. Similarly, the word mame sounds like health – or diligence, according to one friend – so consuming black beans is assurance of both for the coming year. Kurikinton, or chestnuts stewed in sweet potato sauce, look like gold coins, promising wealth.
Friends tell us about the vanishing tradition of osechi home cooking. The women of the house cook up a storm for the week or so prior to New Year’s Day, preparing enough food to carry them over the first three days of the new year. These are days of rest for the family cooks, but the tradition itself likely began in the imperial court in Kyoto, where it was forbidden to light the hearth for those three days.
We didn’t put the dime in the Hoppin’ John as tradition dictates, but did manage to find a credible slab of bacon to substitute for the hamhock. The symbolism: Rice for riches and peas for peace. We wish you both in the new year.