Traditionally there are certain foods that are eaten during the celebrations, and you may find that many of the dishes or ingredients are actually symbolic of something. Although depending on where in Japan, certain things may differ, generally there are main dishes that are enjoyed. Here is a list of these New Year dishes.
1. Toshikoshi Soba
Toshikoshi soba is traditionally eaten the night before New Year's on New Year's Eve. The dish consists of buckwheat noodles in a soup with various toppings. Sometime the dish will be simply garnished with some green onions, other times it is topped with things such as tempura, nori, egg, or spinach. Depending on where you go, people may tell you different, but the noodles are long symbolizing a long life. So by eating the noodles, it represents your wish for a continued long life in the next year as well.
Ozouni, also known as ozoni or zoni, is a soup dish that is traditionally eaten on New Year's Day. Although there are many variations, the dish usually consists of chicken and various vegetables and sometimes tofu as well. It also almost is eaten with mochi in it. The vegetables can range from carrots, shitake mushrooms, daikon, and much more. The mochi much like the noodles in the toshikoshi soba, are supposed to represent longevity, due to its stretchy form.
Osechi is a traditional New Year's assortment of food that each are symbolically supposed to represent something. There are so many components to osechi, and it varies so much depending on who has prepared it. It is commonly put into a traditional black bento box, and is compartmentalized based upon the dish. Below are just some of the more commonly found dishes in osechi.
4. Black Beans: Usually made sweet, they are said to represent hard work.
5. Datemaki: A type of sweet rolled egg mixed with fish cake, the dish is supposed to represent scholarship.
6. Kobumaki/Konbumaki: This is a type of rolled kelp dish. In Japan, many different types of kelp and seaweed are eaten, but this particular kind is called konbu. It is supposed to represent happiness.
7. Kazunoko: Kazunoko is also found in osechi and is herring roe. It usually is salty and crunchy, and it represents fertility.
8. Shrimp: It is also very common to find shrimp in many variations in osechi. Sometimes they are large and whole, sometimes as tempura, and sometimes peeled. The shrimp is also said to be for longevity, much like many things found in a New Year's dish.
9. Gobo: Gobo is burdock root and is also used in many variations. One of the most common versions is as kinpira gobo, a slightly sweet gobo and carrot dish. Gobo is said to represent strength and stability.
There are many other dishes that are also included in osechi, and it tends to vary a lot by region and even household. It is interesting all of the symbolic meanings that each dish represents, and you can't help but feel like you're going to have a great next year with all the symbolic dishes you're consuming.
These are some of the main dishes enjoyed during the New Years, but depending on who you ask, there could be many more. Another common thing that is enjoyed around the New Year is mikan, or a type of citrus fruit resembling a tangerine. Japan has many interesting cultural traditions regarding New Year's including with food. We wonder what traditions also go on in your own family or culture!