or is a traditional multi-course Japanese
dinner analogous to Western haute cuisine
There are basically two kinds of traditional Japanese meal styles called "kaiseki" or "kaiseki ryōri." The first, where "kaiseki" is written as 会席 (and kaiseki ryōri, 会席料理), referring to the fancy meal served at banquets. The other is written 懐石 or 懐石料理, referring to the simple meal that the host of a chanoyu gathering serves to the guests, and which is also known as cha-kaiseki (茶懐石).
characters 懐石 used to write kaiseki
literally mean "stone in the bosom." These kanji are thought to have been incorporated by Sen no Rikyu
(1522-91), to indicate the frugal meal served in the austere style of chanoyu
(Japanese tea ceremony
). The idea came from the practice where Zen monks
would ward off hunger by putting warm stones into the front folds of their robes, near their bellies. Before these kanji started to be used, the kanji for writing the word were simply ones indicating that the cuisine was for a get-together (会席料理). Both sets of kanji remain in use today to write the word; the authoritative Japanese dictionary Kōjien
describes the "cuisine for a get-together" as a banquet meal where the main beverage is sake
(Japanese rice wine), and the "bosom-stone" cuisine as the simple meal served in chanoyu. To distinguish between the two in speech and if necessary in writing, the chanoyu meal may be referred to as "tea" kaiseki, or cha-kaiseki.
In the present day, kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor. Local ingredients are often included as well. Finished dishes are carefully presented on colorful plates that are chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.
Originally, kaiseki comprised a bowl of miso
soup and three side dishes. It has since evolved to include an appetizer, sashimi
, a simmered dish, a grilled dish, and a steamed course, in addition to other dishes at the discretion of the chef.
- Sakizuke: an appetizer similar to the French amuse-gueule.
- Hassun: the second course, which sets the seasonal theme. Typically one kind of sushi and several smaller side dishes.
- Mukozuke: a sliced dish of seasonal sashimi.
- Takiawase: vegetables served with meat, fish or tofu; the ingredients are simmered separately.
- Futamono: a "lidded dish"; typically a soup.
- Yakimono: Broiled seasonal fish.
- Su-zakana: a small dish used to clean the palate, such as vegetables in vinegar.
- Hiyashi-bachi: served only in summer; chilled, lightly-cooked vegetables.
- Naka-choko: another palate-cleanser; may be a light, acidic soup.
- Shiizakana: a substantial dish, such as a hot pot.
- Gohan: a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients.
- Ko no mono: seasonal pickled vegetables.
- Tome-wan: a miso-based or vegetable soup served with rice.
- Mizumono: a seasonal dessert; may be fruit, confection, ice cream, or cake.
This is the meal served in the context of chanoyu
(Japanese tea ceremony
). It precedes the serving of the tea at a formal tea function (chaji
). The basic constituents of a cha-kaiseki
meal are the ichijū sansai
or "one soup, three side dishes", and the rice, plus the following: suimono
, and kōnomono
. The one soup referred to here is usually miso
soup, and the basic three side dishes are the following:
- mukōzuke: foods in a dish arranged on the far side of the meal tray for each guest, which is why it is called mukōzuke (lit., "set to the far side"). Often this might be some kind of sashimi, though not necessarily so. On the near side of the meal tray are arranged the rice and the soup, both in lacquered lidded bowls.
- nimono: simmered foods, served in individual lidded bowls.
- yakimono: grilled foods (usually some kind of fish), brought out in a serving dish for the guests to serve themselves.
Hereunder is a description of the additional items mentioned above:
- suimono: clear soup served in a small lacquered and lidded bowl, to cleanse the palate before the exchange of saké (rice wine) between host and guests. Also referred to as kozuimono (small clear soup) or hashiarai (chopstick rinser).
- hassun: a tray of tidbits from mountain and sea that the guests serve themselves to and accompanies the round of saké (rice wine) shared by host and guests.
- yutō: pitcher of hot water having slightly browned rice in it, which the guests serve themselves to.
- kōnomono: pickles that accompany the yutō.
Extra items that may be added to the menu are generally referred to as shiizakana, and these attend further rounds of saké. Because the host leaves them with the first guest, they are also referred to as azukebachi (lit., "bowl left in another's care").
The thing which put all menus of Kaiseki in Jubako (a nest of boxes). Shokado-bento falls under this, too.
Kaiseki is often served in ryokan
in Japan, but it is also served in small restaurants. Kyoto
is well known for its kaiseki.
Murata, Yoshihiro. Kaiseki: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant.
New York: Kodansha International, 2006. ISBN 4770030223.
Tsutsui, Hiroichi. "From kaiseki 会席 to kaiseki 懐石: The Development of Formal Tea Cuisine" in Chanoyu Quarterly no. 50 (Urasenke Foundation, 1987).
Tsuji, Kaichi. Kaiseki: Zen Tastes in Japanese Cooking. Kodansha International, 1972; second printing, 1981.