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Kaiseki is the name for a formal, traditional Japanese meal consisting of multiple courses (as many as 14), presented in a certain order and almost always with a seasonal theme. As it is considered the top level of dining in Japan, it can be quite expensive at $150-400USD per person….similar in complexity and cost to a Western culinary tasting or degustation menu.

Traditionally offered in Ryokans, Kaiseki is comprise of small, precisely created dishes that balance flavour, form, colour and seasonality and served at a traditional low table where one sits crosslegged. Kyoto as the center of “traditional” Japan, and also rife with Ryokans, is famous for their offerings of Kaiseki dining. I couldn’t resist showing the kawaii kitty visual depicting the typical Kyoto Kaiseki setting. 

If you ever have the opportunity to try Kaiseiki in Japan, please do…but be advised, you might enjoy it more with a Japanese friend or guide, who can explain to you the customs and the descriptions of each of the dishes which can be quite thoughtful and elaborate. 

But as a primer, it is helpful to know the customary progression of courses: 

Sakizuke – a small appetizer, similar to that of a French amuse bouche, intended to awaken the palate

Hassun – the second course establishes the seasonal theme and is often sushi presented with small side dishes

Mukozuku – a course of seasonal sashimi

Takiawase – vegetables typically served with a protein like chicken, meat, fish or tofu

Futamono – a dish presented in a small cup with a lid, typically a soup but sometimes a warm, savoury custard

Yakimono – “yaki” is the word for grilled (like yakitori), so it is no surprise this is a grilled dish, often fish

Su-zakana – a dish intended to be a palate cleanser, customarily vegetables dressed in vinegar

Hiyashi-bachi – served in a summer kaiseki, this is a dish of lightly cooked vegetables

Naka-choko – usually a light soup intended to prepare one for the upcoming heavier par of the meal

Shiizakana – the most heavy part of the meal, heavy on protein, for example hot pot

Gohan – a rice dish featuring seasonal ingredients to match the seasonal theme

Konomono – seasonal picked vegetables

Tomewan – a miso or vegetable soup, sometimes accompanied with rice

Mizomono – the final course, dessert which is often small and light such as fruit, cake or ice cream

 

Despite the number of courses, because they are mostly quite small, you will find that by the end you are hara hachi bunme – the widely embraced Japanese concept of eating until you are only 80% full. Enjoy!

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