Out of all the holidays, I’ve grown to love the New Year.
It must be the hope that comes with the unknown. The fact that it’s new, the year’s bound to have something good to offer. Old troubles from the previous year disappears and everything is a clean slate again.
I’ve had the luck of spending my New Year differently for the past three years. And it’s interesting how each New Year brings a new experience for me. This year was rather laidback compared the previous year. Perhaps I’m starting this year with clearer head and a calm compared to last year.
Last year was filled with excitement as it was my first New Year to spend with a Japanese family. A close friend of mine, the Sugawaras, decided to share this holiday for me and spend that time, Japanese style.
Now I’m not saying that this is what Japanese people usually do. It’s best to say that this is what Japanese people spend the New Year’s when they’re far away from home. While they may not go to temples, play badminton, and all that jazz, some New Year traditions never change. The joy of having to eat an osechi and ozoni is still a staple in this Japanese home away from home.
Osechi is not a glorified bento. This was something I learned as soon as I set my eyes on the three-tiered box on top of their table. For the longest while I had always thought that osechi was just a bento for the tired family who might not have the energy to cook after a year-end cleaning, but as it turns out, there’s more to the osechi than just grub for the family.
As I looked closer down every tier, I realize that the osechi was closer to a jewelry box with vibrant beads of ikura, slivers of takenoko, colorful florettes of kamaboko, and all the other things which I could not exactly distinguish. Yue was kind enough to tell me the details of how the kuromame was for good health and my favorite, the datemaki, a fluffy roll of egg seasoned with fish sauce was meant for auspicious days. The fun part about osechi was the idea that you’re eating your luck throughout the year. It’s similar to how the Chinese eat noodles for the holidays. Only each and every thing in that osechi box stood for something and you’re kind of ingratiating them into your body.
In Japan, it’s a tradition to have osechi at your New Year’s table and most of its ingredients have been there for years. However, the osechi we got also had foreign things like terrine which was not exactly Japanese. I suppose that was how the dish was appropriated outside of Japan. Although I don’t think the Philippines has something French in it either.
Alongside the osechi was the only thing my host family cooked that day, ozoni, a clear soup made with vegetables and with mildly charred mochi. Eating mochi for the new year and stretching it between your teeth is said to give you a long life ahead.
If there’s one thing I love about Japanese New Year (beyond the playfulness) is eating healthy at the start of the year. I’m used to having menudo, callos, and all of these yummy oily stuff, but having vegetables, simple broth, a plethora of symbolic food was a great experience as well.
I’m starting to wonder if the Philippines can also have an osechi of our own. If I were to make one, I’ll put in tuyo in that osechi. Not to symbolize frugality, but to remind people that through difficult times, we can make it through.