Traditional Japanese New Year dishes

Thanks to Kyoko and Natsu from the Japanese Food Composition Database, I was able to visit a cooking class held at the Chiba Prefectural University of Health Sciences by Prof. Tomoko Watanabe. During the first year of their study, the dietetics students have cooking classes once a week. This week was dedicated to Osechi-ryori, traditional Japanese New Year foods.

By the way, last week they studied Christmas dishes. Hmmm… Christmas dishes in a non Christian country? Well, that’s when they learn how to cook western dishes. Chicken, avocado-shrimp salad and Bûche de Noël :-)

Back to Osechi-ryori. Traditionally, people – or should I say women – prepared these dishes before New Year’s Eve and the family would eat of it the following few days. The dishes are cooked in such ways that they keep for at least three days. This gave the housewives a break from their cooking duties. But nowadays less and less people know how to cook these dishes themselves.

All dishes and ingredients have a meaning and represent wishes for the New Year such as good health, fertility, longevity, good harvest etc.

This is Prof. Watanabe and her assistant (both are dietitians). Watanabe-sensei is explaining the menu that they are going to cook today.


The first year dietitian students listening to Watanabe-sensei.


Prof. Watanabe demonstrating how to remove the intestine of raw shrimps.


One of the first finished dishes. Mini anchovies prepared in soy sauce, sake and sugar. Somehow fishy, salty, sweet and bitter all together. Very unusual taste and a bit too intense for me.


This is a sweet omelette. When it’s ready baked, it’s taken out of the dish and rolled in a bamboo mat to cool down and give it its characteristic form.


After cooling down, the omelette is cut into slices. We got a piece of the first cut. Very yummy! Like a dessert. Considering the omelette is not prepared with egg and milk, but with egg and fish paste, this is really astonishing.


Here, Prof. Watanabe is arranging one of the dishes. She uses special chopsticks. I already found out that there are not only chopsticks for eating, but also chopsticks for cooking. The cooking ones are larger and longer. And today I learned, that there are also chopsticks for arranging and decorating dishes. They can be used from both sides. One side is for grabbing, the other for dressing – if I understood it right.


These are the cooking chopsticks. They are used to stir in pans and pots.


Another tool which was new to me. A huge timber mortar which was used to mix the omelette liquid. I wouldn’t have expected it to work so efficiently.


After the demonstration, it was the student’s turn. There were 5 cooking stations and each group prepared the whole set of dishes.


As the presentation of the dishes is as important as the preparation, Prof. Watanabe arranged a whole set for the students to copy it.



These were the recipes. I also got a set. Including English translations. So thoughtful!


This has nothing to do with the cooking but with the teaching. These are Snoopy stamps which say things like “well done” etc. I would have liked to get some of those during my studies :-)  IMG_3993And here it is, the New Year’s menu! On the right side more traditional on the black tray and on the left side westernised on a white plate. To my delight, Watanabe-san prepared three more sets and we were invited for eating. So cool!




I wasn’t the only one taking pictures of the result. The assistant of Prof. Watanabe also documented the menu.


Arigato gozaimasu to the three ladies in the front for this unforgettable afternoon!!


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