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What Is Kaiseki? Explore The Rituals Of Japanese Kaiseki Cuisine

What Is Kaiseki? Explore The Rituals Of Japanese Kaiseki Cuisine

Japanese cuisine is one of the most highly regarded in the world, and nowhere is Japan's culinary talent better showcased than its elegantly presented kaiseki cuisine. This particular kind of dinner has many miniature, delicious courses made with fresh seasonal ingredients and presented beautifully.

Get ready to learn all about kaiseki! Kiichin will explore what it is, where it came from, what you can expect to eat, and the unique customs of enjoying this fantastic meal.

1. Understanding of Kaiseki cuisine

1.1. What is Kaiseki ryori?

Far from the everyday Japanese meal served at home, kaiseki ryori is described as Japanese haute cuisine that embodies the best of Japanese values—harmony, balance, and appreciation of craftsmanship. You may have heard or seen pictures of this complex test. The wonderful expression of dishes on the plate, the combination of seasonal ingredients, and the peaceful expression of tableware. The quietest setting and quietest heart.

At its core, kaiseki ryori celebrates the seasons and the distinctive craftsmanship of the Japanese culinary world. It's a feast and a sensory experience, a must-try culinary experience for any visitor to Japan.

In reality, modern kaiseki is a cooking and food presentation style that has developed over the past few centuries, bringing together a variety of cooking techniques, presentation methods, and premium ingredients. The best description of kaiseki is “Japanese haute cuisine,” meaning elegant dishes eaten on special occasions.

Kaiseki ryori cuisine is described as Japanese haute cuisine that embodies the best of Japanese values.

Kaiseki ryori cuisine is described as Japanese haute cuisine that embodies the best of Japanese values.

1.2. The history of Japanese Kaiseki cuisine

Kaiseki, written as 懐石, or cha-kaiseki (茶懐石), refers to a meal served during a Japanese tea ceremony. Zen Buddhist monks eat only one meal a day. When they are hungry and their body temperature drops, they will place a warm stone on their stomach to warm it and prevent hunger. That stone is called "Onjaku."

The kanji characters for "kaiseki" are kick and stomach. In the tea ceremony, a simple meal before the tea ceremony is called “Kaiseki”, meaning a light meal that helps warm the body and soothe hunger, like a warm stone in the stomach.

Originally, kaiseki was not a luxurious meal to be enjoyed with sake but rather a filling dish meant to enhance the tea experience further.

Kaiseki refers to a meal served during a Japanese tea ceremony.

Kaiseki refers to a meal served during a Japanese tea ceremony.

The term became popular during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603) by Senno Rikyu (千利休), founder of the Japanese tea ceremony. Over time, it evolved into a complex multi-course meal with complicated eating rules.

The following word 'kaiseki', written as 会席, refers to a dinner party, usually for a celebratory occasion. It is a condensed combination of different dining styles initially reserved for the upper class and was widely popular among the merchant class during the Edo period (1603-1868). Chances are that the kaiseki restaurants you come across all have this style.

Kaiseki is the evening meal, but some restaurants offer shortened (and therefore cheaper) Kaiseki lunches.

1.3. The elements of Kaiseki

In kaiseki, the dishes are chosen to reflect the season: the ingredients are always “non-proprietary” or the freshest the market offers. Each dish is served on carefully selected tableware, such as lacquered trays and priceless ceramic bowls.

Unlike regular meals, kaiseki is a series of smaller, meticulously prepared dishes presented in a specific order. This allows you to savor each course and appreciate the different tastes and textures. Finally, profound thought goes into the presentation of each dish so that each resembles a work of edible art.

Unlike regular meals, kaiseki is a series of smaller, meticulously prepared dishes presented in a specific order.

Unlike regular meals, kaiseki is a series of smaller, meticulously prepared dishes presented in a specific order.

And aesthetic concerns don't stop at the dining table: the room where the meal is served is equally essential. Delicious kaiseki is almost always served in a traditional restaurant, decorated, refined, and straightforward restaurant. The flowers and scrolls in the tokonoma (sacred alley of the room) will be carefully selected to reflect the season. Ideally, one side of the room will have a sliding glass door that allows a view of a perfect little tsubo-niwa (Japanese pocket garden).

Since kaiseki is a traditional Japanese style of cuisine, you'll find lots of seafood and shellfish, plenty of Japanese vegetable dishes, and the all-important rice, often served alongside miso soup and tsukemono (Japanese-style pickles). at the end of the meal. And, of course, the drink of choice is sake, but you can also order beer or oolong tea.

2. Two styles of Kaiseki service

There are two different styles of serving kaiseki cuisine:

2.1. Cha-kaiseki

This traditional kaiseki has its roots in the formal Japanese tea ceremony experience of the sixteenth century. The Cha-kaiseki service consists of a simple meal of miso soup and various side dishes served before drinking several cups of matcha tea. You'll find the cha-kaiseki style at more traditional Japanese teahouses with tatami mats.

2.2. Kaiseki ryori

This more modern kaiseki service is a luxurious and sophisticated banquet-style dinner. You'll likely find a kaiseki ryori meal at an upscale Japanese restaurant with more modern interior decor.

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3. 10 standard Kaiseki meal courses

There are no rules regarding the number of dishes a kaiseki meal must contain, as ingredients are determined by the season and the chef's preferences. You can find kaiseki meals that range from 6 to 15 courses, including everything from soup to grilled fish:

3.1. Sakizuke: Appetizers aim to prepare a meal for diners and showcase the chef's style. Sakizuke is similar to amuse bouche in French cuisine.
Sakizuke
Sakizuke
3.2. Hassun: A dish that sets the seasonal theme of the meal.

Hassun

Hassun

3.3. Suimono: A slider dish made from dashi broth with a palate-pleasing effect.
Suimono
Suimono
3.4. Mukozuke or otsukuri: A plate of premium seasonal sashimi.
A plate of premium seasonal sashimi.
A plate of premium seasonal sashimi.

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3.5. Takiawase: A vegetable dish served with meat, fish, or tofu.
Takiawase
Takiawase
3.6. Yakimono: Seasonal grilled fish dish.
Yakimono
Yakimono
3.7. Shiizakana: Translating to a “strong snack”, shiizakana are small dishes served with sake.
Shiizakana
Shiizakana
3.8. Gohan or shokuji: Seasonal rice dish usually cooked in a clay steamer.
Gohan or shokuji
Gohan or shokuji
3.9. Tome-wan: A vegetable slide or miso slide often served alongside the previous dish.
Miso slide
Miso slide
3.10 Mizumono: A seasonal Japanese dessert platter, including fruit, candies, ice cream and cakes.
Mizumono
Mizumono

4. Proper Kaiseki eating etiquette

Kaiseki is the most refined form of Japanese traditional food and requires the highest etiquette. Although foreigners do not need to know every specific code of conduct, it is essential to follow some basic procedures.

4.1. Express gratitude

Before eating, say itadakimasu to the chef and restaurant staff to express your thanks for the meal. Itadakimasu translates as "I received this dish." At the end of the meal, express gratitude by saying gochiso-sama deshita, meaning "it was a feast."

4.2. Use only oshibori on your hands

You will receive a towel called oshibori. This towel is specifically designed for wiping hands and it is bad manners to use to wipe anything else, so avoid using it on your mouth or wiping the table.

4.3. Use correct chopsticks etiquette

When not using chopsticks, always put them back in the hashioki holder. Using chopsticks, hold the tip and pick up food with the pointed end. Avoid using chopsticks to skewer food or cut food into small pieces.

5. Conclusion

With meticulous preparation and elegant presentation, Japanese kaiseki cuisine represents the quintessence of Japanese fine dining. Any true foodie would be remiss not to experience the flavors, textures and visual delights of the season that this truly exquisite meal has to offer.

Although kaiseki may seem like an extravagant hobby, it is also a philosophy. It teaches us to appreciate the fleeting nature of the seasons, the importance of mindful eating, and the beauty of even the simplest ingredients. So if you can participate in a kaiseki adventure, take it as an opportunity to enjoy the food and the experience and cultural significance it brings.

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