What is Kaiseki Ryori (会席料理)?

Kaiseki ryori refers to dishes that are enjoyed with Japanese sake during banquets. While there are no strict rules in the formation of its menu, many kaiseki ryori dishes are served in courses. These courses are characterized with shirumono (soup) and ko-no-mono (pickled vegetables) eaten with steamed rice at the end of the meal, after enjoying the main dishes together with sake. This developed after the Edo period (1603 – 1867), and is now positioned at the mainstream of Japanese cuisine.

Image courtesy of Okuda New York.

How is it Different from the Other Kaiseki Ryori (懐石料理)?

There is this other thing called “kaiseki ryori (懐石料理)” (using different kanji) that is a homonym of the course-type kaiseki ryori (会席料理) described above. This type of kaiseki ryori was born from “sado” (tea ceremony), which is deeply related to Zen Buddhism. The course-type kaiseki ryori (会席料理) is enjoyed with sake, while the kaiseki ryori (懐石料理) for tea ceremonies refers to dishes that are served before drinking tea, which is the main event in tea ceremonies. The “wabi” (taste of simplicity and tranquility) and “sabi” (quiet simplicity) that are at the heart of tea ceremonies are expressed in these dishes, so one of the characteristics of this type of course is that the rice and soup are served first. Its name comes from the act of putting hot “seki” (stones) into the “kai” (pocket) to prevent hunger and cold during harsh training in Zen Buddhism.

Sample Course Menu

There is no set rule for the kaiseki ryori menu, but let’s go through an example of a typical menu.

  • Sakizuke (appetizer)
    This is the appetizer that is served at the beginning of the meal. It refers to the appetizer or snack that is brought out together with sake.
  • Wan-mono (dish in a bowl)
    This refers to the soup that is put in a wan (bowl). It allows you to enjoy the taste and aroma of the season. It plays the role of a palate refresher after drinking sake and eating the appetizer.
  • Mukozuke (seasonal sashimi)
    This is a slice of sashimi, a pickled dish, or something similar.
  • Yakimono (broiled dish)
    It is a dish of grilled seafood, mainly fish. This dish doesn’t consist of ingredients simply grilled in salt. Rather, it generally refers to seafood that has been seasoned with miso and other condiments. Sometimes, it is a dish of grilled matsutake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and other vegetables that will make you feel the season.
  • Nimono (boiled dish)
    This is a dish that is made by cooking vegetables, seafood, and other ingredients together. It is often a dish that looks simple, but has a refined taste.
  • Shiizakana (hot pot dish)
    This refers to deep-fried foods, pickled foods, chawan-mushi (savory egg custard), and such. Most of the shiizakana that is served has a kind of seasoning and flavor that will make you want to drink more sake.
  • Gohan, tomewan, and ko-no-mono (rice, miso-based soup, and pickled vegetables)
    These are the rice, soup, and pickled vegetables that are served at the conclusion of the sake and meal.
  • Mizugashi and kanmi (fruits and sweets)
    Lastly, seasonal fruits and wagashi (Japanese-style confectioneries) are served as dessert.

References: Kaiseki , Kaiseki Cuisine
Visited: November 2019

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