Browsing articles from "December, 2012"
Dec 27, 2012

New Year’s Bites: Have an oishii oshogatsu

It’s been unkindly referred to as “o-retchi” in some circles, so let’s face it—osechi ryori is not everyone’s cup of green tea. What to do if you’re one of those in the blergh camp? Metropolisinvestigates additions and alternatives to the Japanese New Year menu.

Solution 1: Order in

Whether you’re an atrocious cook, you’re pressed for time or have always wanted to eat at a fancy schmancy restaurant but never gotten around to it, take-out osechi is the answer for you. Whether ordering in from your local supermarket, Natural House (for the organic foodies among us) or one of Tokyo’s major department stores, there’s a jubako, or specially prepared box set, for every taste and budget.

If money is no object, why not splurge and order osechi from one of Tokyo’s top hotels or restaurants? Internationally renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa may have garnered international plaudits for his signature black cod in miso and his blending of Japanese cuisine with South American ingredients, but a ¥50,400 jubako from Nobu Tokyo contains seemingly more traditional fare. A similarly priced ¥52,500 jubako from Toutouan is presented within a stalk of green bamboo and adheres to the aesthetics of the restaurant, which is on the premises of an old family mansion passed down since the Edo Period.

Not all jubako are as costly. Prices generally range from ¥10,000 and it’s usually possible to mix and individually select some items to make the meal more your own, or you can order mini osechi instead.

A number of stores this year are also promoting ingredients and dishes from the Tohoku region; Takashimaya’s Higashi Nihon Gambaro Osechi (¥21,000) highlights regional delicacies such as Miyagi Prefecture oysters in olive oil and buri (yellowtail) teriyaki from Aomori Prefecture.

Solution 2: Look to regional fare

Perhaps one of the other prefectures holds the key to your osechi mojo. The opportunity to explore Japan’s regional culinary prowess is readily available through the bowl of soup served for breakfast on New Year’s Day: ozoni. Ingredients vary widely, but a piece of omochi (rice cakes made of steamed, then pounded glutinous rice) is almost always included. In eastern Japan omochi is cut into squares, while in western Japan round omochi is more common. Some areas add sweet red bean-paste, while others add miso, shrimp, duck, oysters and various kinds of vegetables.

But there are other dishes that feature prominently in local osechi repertoire. When researching her charity e-book on Tohoku cuisine, Kibo: Brimming With Hope, Elizabeth Andoh was astonished to learn that squid jerky and carrot strips (pictured; see recipe online) was the one, non-negotiable dish prominent in many a local jubako.

Solution 3: Add a personal touch

In keeping with the tradition of featuring red and white foodstuffs—said to represent the lucky colors of the Japanese flag—interpret some of your own foods into the jubako. Try a bocconcini and tomato caprese-style salad, or for a real touch of fusion, replace the cheese with artisanal tofu. Smoked salmon white bread sandwiches, crusts removed, English style, is another easy option.

By: Jane Kitagawa

Dec 21, 2012

New Year’s Osechi Ryori Boxes Explained

Trying to find somewhere open on and after January 1, when the New Year holidays have shut doors all around Japan, can be trying. Hence the tradition of osechi ryori, or seasonal food, dishes targeted at providing sustenance over the laidback days at home. Most can be prepared ahead of time, lasting for days when kept in a cool environment.

Like everything else in Japan, osechi ryori can be bought packaged exquisitely in deluxe boxes called jubako. At department stores such as Takashimaya, late October sees the spectacle of the first day of pre-order, when lined-up customers stampede inside to snap up the coveted limited-edition boxes. These tend to include offerings from Michelin-grade and other award-winning chefs, top-class hotels, and famous ryotei (luxurious Japanese restaurants)—and can fetch up to ¥200,000 per box. For those without a six-figure salary however, local supermarkets and conbini also sell—more affordable—box sets. Some mix in Chinese and Western elements, while others highlight regional cuisine.

Every year has its trends, and this one is no different. Look out for a proliferation of low-calorie options, and “yawaraka osechi”— soft foods for elderly customers.


  • Tazukuri—Candied dried sardines, formerly used as fertilizer in rice paddies, hence their other name gomame (“50,000 grains of rice”)
  • Kazunoko—Herring roe simmered in soy and dashi broth, symbolizing fertility
  • Kuromame—Simmered sweet black beans, a pun on the word “mame” for diligence and hard work in the upcoming year
  • Kohaku namasu—Pickled, red Kyoto carrots and strips of white daikon make up the celebratory colors of red and white
  • Kamaboko—Steamed fish cakes, also in the nationalistic colors
  • Kuri kinton—Mashed sweet potato with sweet chestnut, the kanji is a play on prosperity
  • Yude ebi—Boiled shrimp, whose bent backs refer to having a long life (check out some elderly on the bus for a visual explanation)
  • Kobumaki—Kelp, often wrapped around herring or salmon. A play on the word “yorokobu,” for happiness in the home
  • Tai—Sea bream; a play on the congratulatory greeting “omedetai”
  • Sato imo—Taro root, symbolizing a great number of descendents, from the way the little potato-like vegetables proliferate
  • Renkon—Lotus root, the holes of which allow us to see clearly into our future
  • Daidai—Bitter orange, whose name is a homonym for future generations

Look out for spice packets for steeping in sake to make o-toso. The spice pack looks like a tea bag and is filled with herbs including cinnamon and dried sansho berries, and produces a delicious drink for New Year’s Day, thought to stave off illness during the winter season.

by Yukari Sakamoto

Dec 10, 2012

Truffles: Piggish antics in Aoyama

Thrust your porcine snout into the turf and root your way over to Minami Aoyama, to greet the second coming of the truffle train. Having moved from Roppongi, the Nice-based Terres de Truffes opens doors December 7 (book from November 21) in a cozier location with an expanded menu. New à la carte items (from ¥2,800) include the signature truffle-steamed rice, and a host of other titillating treats riffing on the sought-after fungus. Lunch set menus range from ¥2,800-7,800, while a set dinner goes for ¥15,000. Punters can also buy fresh truffles and bottles of truffle oil for piggish antics back home.

Terres de Truffes Website

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(2-27-6 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku)