Japanese New Year Cuisine - Osechi
(Courtesy of: http://www.bento.com/fexp-osechi.html)
In Japan during the first few days of the New Year what most people eat is ‘Osechi Ryori' which is supposed to bring prosperity, good fortune and health throughout the year.
Kazunoko (herring roe) - tiny yellow fish eggs. Like the tobiko you often find at sushi restaurants, kazunoko have a bite or crunch to them, however, the eggs are not loose.
They are marinated in a broth of dashi, sake and soy sauce.
Kuromame (black beans) are soft and quite sweet, although you may notice a bit of soy sauce flavoring.
Gomame (also known as tazukuri) are small sardines that have been dried and then finished in a sweet sauce of sugar, mirin, soy sauce and sake. These are rich in calcium and yes, you can eat the head.
Kombumaki are nothing more than the umami-rich kombu rolled tightly and bound shut with a ribbon of gourd strip (kampyo). Often kombumaki are stuffed with salmon. This is also cooked slowly in dashi, mirin, sugar, and soy sauce.
Datemaki looks like the tamago-yaki (egg custard) you often find in a bento box, but here it's made with a fish paste and has a sponge-like texture. It's quite sweet.
Sweet potatoes and chestnuts are the base of kurikinton, which can look something like yellow mashed potatoes.
Kamaboko, a dense cake of fish paste, is red and white (traditional New Year's colors). You can often find thin slices of this on your soba.
Another red-and-white food you'll find is called namasu - typically daikon and carrots pickled in vinegar.
For vegetables, look for gobo (burdock root), often dressed with sesame. Also lotus root, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and pea pods.
Konnyaku (devil's-tongue starch) and fu (wheat gluten) will also be sprinkled throughout the stacked boxes.
For seafood, shrimp (representing long life) and sea bream (for auspicious fortune) are most typical.