Kaiseki or Kaiseki ryōri (懐石料理) is a type of traditional Japanese cuisine, originating from Shintoism.
The Kanji of Kaiseki ryōri (懐: chest / 石: stone / 料理: kitchen) are composed in this way, because
monks used to place stones on their chests, during their fasting periods, to cut off their hunger.
Who says Shinto cuisine, says vegetarian cuisine: the Kaiseki was therefore, originally, entirely made of vegetarian dishes.
Nowadays, Kaiseki does not only consist of vegetables, but also of fish and meat.
The freshness of the products and the respect of the seasons is very important in a Kaiseki meal. In a real Kaiseki kitchen, you will find only seasonal products! The menu will change regularly and if it does not, ask about the establishment.
Kaiseki cuisine grilled fishThe preparation of this type of meal is very important: it must respect the products, while enhancing the taste, smell and color of the food. But be careful, when we say taste, don't expect to find soy sauce, Yasabi or any other Japanese condiment in large quantities.
The essence of Kaiseki is the respect of the product and its original taste, so sublimate it yes, "kill" it no!
The presentation is also very important, it is a real culinary picture that you will see before your eyes. Nature is very present in the composition of the dishes, you will often find flowers, herbs, leaves, or bamboo as decoration.
A Kaiseki meal
Kaiseki itself is a meal made of a succession of small dishes. All of them are presented in individual (small) plates, very nice in design and often also in accordance with the season.
Originally, the Kaiseki of the monks was composed of a soup and 3 dishes, but today this composition has become the typical Japanese meal, which you can find in Japanese homes and restaurants (the famous "sets").
The Kaiseki has evolved over time, to consist of many more small dishes, taken from the different techniques of Japanese cuisine.
Each Kaiseki chef is of course free to organize his menu as he wishes, but you will always find, in a complete Kaiseki, a menu created around :
- Sakizuke (先付): appetizer
- Hassun (八寸): 2 or 3 (small) dishes, often land and sea
- Mukōzuke (向付): seasonal sashimi
- Takiawase (煮合): seasonal vegetables accompanied by a little fish or meat or tofu
- Futamono (蓋物): soup
- Yakimono (焼物): grilled fish
- Suzakana (酢肴): small dish with vinegar
- Nakachoko (中猪口): light soup
- Shiizakana (強肴): main dish (nabe, fondue, ...)
- Kō no mono (香の物): crunchy seasonal vegetables
- Tome-wan (止椀): miso or vegetable soup.
- Mizumono (水物): seasonal dessert (often fruit or ice cream or cupcake)
- Gohan (御飯): rice (amazing :o)
During a trip to Japan, I really advise you to eat at least one Kaiseki meal ! You have to plan a certain budget: a good restaurant will have a menu between 100$ and 150$ per person, without counting alcohols and like the US gastronomic restaurants, you can go very high in price.
However, try to keep a budget for Kaiseki, so you will dive into the Japanese culinary must.