With the global rise in health consciousness, Japanese cuisine has garnered significant attention in recent years. Japanese cuisine can be broken down into three distinct categories: traditional "honzen" cuisine, "kaiseki" cuisine served at tea ceremonies, and "kaiseki" (spelled with different kanji characters) cuisine served at banquets. This article focuses on the kaiseki cuisine that is served at tea ceremonies and introduces its characteristics and table manners, as well as restaurants where you can casually enjoy modern kaiseki cuisine. Immerse yourself in the essence of Japanese "omotenashi" hospitality as you delve into the depths of kaiseki cuisine!
What Is Kaiseki Cuisine?
The Origins of Kaiseki Cuisine
Characteristics of Kaiseki Cuisine
The roots of seasonal kaiseki cuisine lie in a simple menu known as "ichiju sansai," which consists of rice as the mainstay, soup, and three side dishes. This ichiju sansai has also served as the foundation for modern Japanese cuisine.
Kaiseki Cuisine and the Essence of Japanese Hospitality
The tea served during the tea ceremony is strong and can burden the stomach if consumed on an empty one. Kaiseki cuisine was devised to address this concern and enable guests to fully relish the tea.
The spirit of "ichigo ichie," which emphasizes treasuring each encounter as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, permeates both the tea ceremony and kaiseki cuisine.
Every aspect of kaiseki cuisine reflects the essence of Japanese hospitality: utilizing the most delectable seasonal ingredients available to delight the gathered guests, meticulous attention to the colors and presentation of tableware, and even the timing of serving the food.
Guide to Enjoying Kaiseki Dining and Etiquette
How to Enjoy Kaiseki Cuisine
First, a low serving tray called an "oshiki" is brought by the host (the organizer of the tea ceremony) to the guests, with a rice bowl, a soup bowl, and a dish called a "mukozuke" placed on it. The order of eating is to start with the rice, followed by the soup, and then the mukozuke.
Next, "nimono" and "yakimono" dishes are brought in that order. As soon as you finish one dish, the freshly prepared next dish is promptly served.
Then, "kozui" and "hassun" dishes are presented, followed by "yuto" and "koumono." While enjoying the koumono, it is customary to use it wipe the inside of the rice bowl clean.
Once the meal is finished, everyone simultaneously drops their chopsticks onto the oshiki. This sound signals to the host that the meal is concluded.
- Soup: Miso soup with vegetables, tofu, and other ingredients
- Rice: Freshly cooked rice
- Mukozuke: Sashimi or "namasu" (thinly sliced ingredients dressed with vinegar and other seasonings)
- Nimono: A clear soup of fish, poultry, and vegetables
- Yakimono: Grilled fish filets, etc
- Kozui: Lightly seasoned, refreshing soup
- Hassun: Seafood and mountain delicacies that complement alcoholic beverages
- Yuto: An aromatic dish of roasted rice and hot water
- Koumono: Pickled vegetables
- When entering a Japanese-style room, it is customary to remove your shoes; however, going barefoot is not allowed. Always remember to wear socks or stockings.
- When using a wet towel, it is considered impolite to wipe anything other than your hands (such as your face, neck area, or tables).
- When splitting disposable chopsticks, hold them horizontally above your knees and split them by pulling up and down. Avoid splitting them left to right, as it may result in unintentionally bumping elbows with the person next to you.
- It is considered inappropriate to stick chopsticks into food, hold them in a clenched fist, or put the tips in your mouth and lick them.
- When bringing food to your mouth while the dish is still on the table, it is customary to place a small paper napkin called "kaishi" (a folded traditional Japanese paper carried in one's pocket) underneath to prevent any spills or dropping of the food.
Recommended Restaurants to Indulge in Kaiseki Cuisine
In recent times, a growing number of ryotei (traditional high-end Japanese restaurants) and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) have started offering kaiseki cuisine that can be relished without the need to adhere strictly to the rules of the traditional kaiseki (chakaiseki). Here are two recommended restaurants, perfect for those seeking a casual yet authentic kaiseki dining experience in Japan.
Savor the seasonal flavors for a truly once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
Average price: [Dinner] 7,000 JPY
Access: About 10 minutes by car from Kishi Station on the Kintetsu Nagano Line or from Kaminotaishi Station on the Kintetsu Minami Osaka Line
Address: 1238, Hamuro, Taishi-cho, Minamikawachi-gun, Osaka Map
Kyobashi Basara (Kyobashi)
Closed: Sunday, National Holidays
Average price: [Dinner] 10,000 JPY / [Lunch] 2,000 JPY
Access: Directly connected to the building (Kyobashi Station on the Tokyo Metro Line, Exit 3 of the ticket gate toward Meijiya), 7 minutes walk from Yaesu South Exit of Tokyo Station on each line
Address: 1F, Tokyo Square Garden, 3-1, Kyobashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo Map