How to Pack Osechi Ryori in 3-Tier Boxes

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  • The complete guide on how to pack Osechi Ryori in 3-tier boxes (jubako). With step-by-step pictures and helpful tips, you can easily prepare beautiful boxes of Osechi Ryori with confidence!

    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)

    Osechi Ryori, the traditional Japanese New Year food, is often served in two-to-three-tiered lacquered boxes called Jubako (重箱). It is presented in such a special manner as the food is an offering to the Year God. In this post, I will show you how to pack all the dishes you make for New Year’s Day.

    To pack Osechi Ryori, there are a few traditional rules that we have to follow. I will also share some helpful tips that you can use immediately to make a difference in the final presentation. Now let’s begin!

    Watch How to Pack Osechi Ryori in 3-Tier Boxes

    The complete guide on how to pack Osechi Ryori in 3-tier boxes (jubako). With step-by-step pictures and helpful tips, you can easily prepare beautiful boxes of Osechi Ryori with confidence!

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    Osechi Boxes | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    Rules to Remember

    • Specific items in 3-tier boxes – These days, Osechi is typically served in 3 layers: The first top box contains small appetizers to go with drinks, then the second box contains grilled dishes and vinegared dishes, and the third box contains simmered dishes. This is not a strict rule and it can be done differently depending on the regions. Osechi Ryori can also be in just one or two-tier boxes or can be served on a platter.
    • Pack only cold or room temperature dishes – You can’t serve hot food in lacquered jubako; therefore, all the dishes are enjoyed at room temperature, just like bento box!
    • Serve in odd number – Odd number is auspicious. If the dish contains countable food, such as Datemaki (Sweet Rolled Omelette), add 3, 5, 7, or 9 pieces. You can put additional food outside the box on a platter, etc. Some people add a garnish on top when they have an even number count of food. (For example, 4 pieces of datemaki and a leaf on top).

    Osechi Menu Planning | Easy Japanese Recipes at JustOneCookbook.com

    Helpful Packing Tips

    • Use sticky notes – Label what dish goes into each compartment of Osechi boxes.
    • Coordinate color and shape – Don’t put the same/similar color next to each other, like Datemaki (sweet rolled omelette) and Kuri Kinton (both yellow/gold). Also, balance out the shape and texture of the dishes.
    • Use small bowls to compartmentalize – Loose ingredients such as Kuromame (sweet black soybeans) and Ikura (salmon roe) should be in smaller containers before packing into the box.
    • Use food with a ridged structure as a compartment wall – Try to utilize food with a ridged structure, like kamaboko fish cake and Datemaki, as a wall next to loose, soft, flexible food.
    • Remove the liquid before packing – You don’t want to mix the flavor of two dishes, so make sure to remove any cooking liquids before packing.
    • Utilize colors – For example, green is a favorite color to add a touch of festivity, elegance, and freshness to your Osechi.

    Nami’s 3 Important Props

    When I think about what makes it easy when I pack my Osechi, I found these three items necessary and very helpful. You don’t have to have the exact same thing, but rather focus on the reason and find a similar item.

    Osechi Kobachi
    These mini bowls (in Japanese, we call them Kobachi 小鉢) come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. Use these bowls to hold loose ingredients or simply to add more color to the Osechi Box.
    Bamboo Leaves
    Bamboo leaves are great for compartmentalizing. Fold in half lengthwise, and cut to fit in the box. It also adds a fresh green color!
    Nanten (nandina, heavenly bamboo or sacred bamboo)
    Osechi Box looks quite different without green garnish. Nanten leaves (also called nandina, heavenly bamboo or sacred bamboo) are often used as garnish in Japanese cooking. We just happened to have it in our front yard!

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    A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Pack Osechi

    Box 1 (Ichinoju 一の重)

    The first box is the “face” of Osechi Ryori, with all the colorful and beautiful small dishes. Most of the dishes are enjoyed with drinks (Otoso and sake), similar to appetizers or Hors d’oeuvres. I used the Kanto-style Ichimatsu (市松 checkerboard) design with 9 square compartments to pack dishes.

    1. Ikura (Salmon Roe) いくら
    2. Decorative Fish Cakes (Kamaboko) 市松かまぼこ
    3. Sweet Rolled Omelette (Datemaki) 伊達巻
    4. Salmon Kombu Roll (Kobumaki) 鮭の昆布巻き
    5. Candied Chestnut and Sweet Potatoes (Kuri Kinton) 栗きんとん
    6. Candied Sardines (Tazukuri) 田作り
    7. Daikon & Carrot Salad (Namasu) 紅白なます
    8. Sweet Black Soybeans (Kuromame) 黒豆
    9. Herring Roe (Kazunoko) 数の子
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Start with a center dish, which should be a pretty color and shape. Here I put Ikura (salmon roe) in a hexagon container. Sweet Black Soybeans or Daikon and Carrot Salad in a yuzu cup is another good choice!
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    This is a “booster” for the kamaboko I will add next, which will maintain the same height as the center dish.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Kamaboko with Ichimatsu (checkerboard) design. Red (pink) and white are used for a happy occasion.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Another “booster” trick.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    You will see Sweet Rolled Omelette, Ikura and Kamaboko are on the same height. Simmered Salmon Kombu Rolls has a booster underneath as well.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    If you can buy bamboo leaves, use one as a compartment or divider. It also adds a nice green color.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    I add Candied Chestnut and Sweet Potatoes on top of the leaf. The heads of Candied Sardines have to look left (if you follow the traditional rule).
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Here comes another “booster” for the next dish I’ll pack.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    I put Daikon and Carrot Salad in a yuzu cup, introducing a bright color and unique shape to make Osechi even prettier.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Loose Sweet Black Soybeans can be in a pretty container. Here I used a pentagon shape bowl to add more shape. Gold flakes make it more festive! And put the Herring Roes vertically.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Lastly, add leaves of Heavenly Bamboo (Nanten) as a garnish.

    Box 2 (Ninoju 二の重)

    The second box includes grilled dishes (main dishes) and vinegared dishes. I used the Suehiro (末広) design spreading out like an open fan from the center, which creates 5 compartments. For a center dish, you can put Namasu (Daikon and Carrot Salad) in a yuzu cup to replace the shrimp.

    1. Simmered Shrimp (Ebi no Umani) えびのうま煮
    2. Yellowtail Teriyaki (Buri no Teriyaki) ぶりの照り焼き
    3. Butter Shoyu Scallops (Hotate no Butter Shoyu Yaki) 帆立のバター醤油焼き
    4. Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip (Kikka Kabu) 菊花かぶ
    5. Pickled Lotus Root (Su Renkon) 酢れんこん
    6. Pounded Burdock Root with Sesame Sauce (Tataki Gobo) たたきごぼう
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Start from the center dish, which has a brighter color (in this case Simmered Shrimp). To create compartments, use the bamboo leaves (fold in half lengthwise and cut to fit in the box).
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Add the bulky dish (Yellowtail Teriyaki) into the compartment first then fill in with the small dish (Butter Shoyu Scallops).
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Pack a visually appealing and shorter dish like Pickled Chrysanthemum Turnip toward the front.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Choose a taller dish like Pickled Lotus Root to pack in the back so it won’t block the other dishes.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Even with fixed-shaped food (Pounded Burdock Root), fill out the empty spaces as much as possible and pack the food in an orderly fashion.
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    And remember to add some touches of green! See the previous picture and this picture; just 1-2 leaves makes a huge difference!

    Box 3 (Sannoju 三の重)

    The third box contains simmered dishes.

    1. Simmered Chicken and Vegetables (Chikuzenni) 筑前煮
    2. Instant Pot Nishime 煮しめ
    Packing Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year Food)
    Put Simmered Chicken and Vegetables (Chikuzenni). Evenly distribute each ingredient in the box. Mostly brown ingredients so save the carrot and snow peas last.

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    How to Enjoy Osechi Ryori

    The 3-tier Osechi Ryori (Japanese New Year's Food) filled with colorful dishes.

    When everyone gathers and ready to partake the most important meal of the year, lay out each individual tier of Osechi box at the center of the table. Some families may serve other dishes such as grilled red snapper and roast beef to accompany Osechi dishes. Ozoni (Japanese New Year Mochi Soup) will also be served alongside the meal.

    To enjoy Osechi Ryori, we use these celebratory chopsticks called Iwaibashi (祝い箸). These special chopsticks are pointed and narrower on both ends. They are wrapped in decorative red and white envelopes with a letter Kotobuki (寿; long life, congratulations, happy event) on the outside.

    New Year's Chopsticks

    The chopsticks are already separated because it’s bad luck to “split or break” during an auspicious time. They are made of the willow trees as they are hard to break.

    Osechi Ryori is an offering to the Year God and it is also considered as a meal to share with the Year God using these special chopsticks. One side of the chopsticks is used by a human (you) and the other side is used by the Year God to enjoy the meal together.

    So when you use these chopsticks, don’t flip your chopsticks to the “clean side” to take food from a serving dish to your own bowl. It is considered rude because you are using the Year God’s side of the chopsticks. At a formal gathering, there are special serving chopsticks called Toribashi 取り箸 which you can use for transferring food from the serving dishes.

    Traditionally, Iwaibashi is offered to a household Shinto altar (神棚) on the New Year’s Eve. After you finish using the chopsticks on New Year’s Day, you wash (“cleanse”) them yourselves and re-use till the 7th (Matsunouchi, 松の内).

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    I hope this guide to Osechi Ryori Packing was helpful and inspirational. Good luck!

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