What is Kaiseki Ryoki?
At the heart of Kaiseki dining is the Japanese principle of shun, or taking ingredients at the peak of their freshness. Dishes are presented simply, without artifice. This is done not only to ensure that the true flavor of each ingredient be expressed, but also to properly display each and every one and the height of their natural beauty, thus creating the perfect synergy between cuisine and artistic expression.
There are a number of different courses to kaiseki meals, and the exact execution of the meal depends on the chef as well as the availability of seasonal ingredients. However, the kaiseki dining experience typically begins with appetizers, followed by sashimi, cooked dishes, a rice course, and finally, dessert, with optional palate cleansers in between. Here are just a few renowned examples culled from the epicurean annals of Japanese kaiseki cuisine.
The zensai or sakizuke course features an appetizer similar to an amuse-bouche. For example, enjoy an exquisite bite of horsehair crab and sea urchin tossed in a vinaigrette of Tosa vinegar from the Shikoku region, complemented by stock created from skipjack tuna and oranges.
The hassun, or seasonal platter, sets the seasonal theme so integral to kaiseki cuisine. This course typically includes one kind of sushi accompanied by several smaller dishes. With such items as Sanuki-style pickled akagai clams, boiled and roasted Kawachi duck, broccolini in soy sauce, and rump roast made with Kameoka beef, it's a feast for both the eyes and the taste buds.
Sashimi is thinly sliced, raw fish, usually served on a bed of shredded daikon (Japanese radish) and accompanied by soya sauce and a small amount of wasabi paste. Sashimi is sometimes served with the starters.
Nimono is a dish made by boiling, simmering or stewing vegetables and meat or seafood, often in a mixture of soya sauce, sweet cooking sake and sugar.
The soup is an integral part of a kaiseki meal. It is often a simple clear broth sparingly garnished with vegetables, tofu or seafood.
Yakimono dishes are usually either grilled fish or meat. Grilled fish may be a local fresh water variety or seafood depending on the region. Grilled meat often features local wagyu (prime Japanese beef).
The mushimono course boasts a tasty steamed dish, such as steamed egg custard with ikura salmon roe or egg custard with creamy shirako cod milt from Hokkaido and sliced tiger lily bulb.
A dessert of wagashi, or Japanese confection, fruit, cake, or ice cream.