Kaiseki Ryori: Japanese Haute Cuisine
Japanese haute cuisine, known as kaiseki ryori in Japanese, is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. A kaiseki dinner can consist of 6 to 15 different dishes. The presentation of kaiseki is guided by Japanese aesthetics. This kind of meal is also served before the tea ceremony, so it is also known as Cha-Kaiseki. (“Cha” means tea in Japanese.)
The word kaiseki is made up of two characters (懐石): “Kai”, which means a fold in kimono, and “seki”, which means stone. So, “Kaiseki” means hot stone in a Kimono fold.
It is known that Zen priests would tuck hot stones wrapped in towels next to their stomach to stave off hunger during the morning and afternoon prayers.
At first, they will serve “Shokuzen-shu”, which is a small glass of sweet wine or local alcohol. Next comes the first appetizer, called “Hassun.” It consists of sushi and several small side dishes.
For the main courses, you will get so many dishes! These usually include sashimi, “Suimono” (soup), “Yakimono” (grilled dish), “Agemono” (deep fried dish), “Mushimono” (steamed dish), “Nimono” (boiled dish), and “Sunomono” (vinegared dish). Not only that, but you will also get rice, miso soup, and “Tsukemono” (Japanese pickles).
For the dessert, you will get a seasonal fresh fruit, or sorbet.
How much does a kaiseki meal cost?
It is about 15,000 yen to 40,000 yen (180 USD to 480 USD) per person, not including the drinks.
Fortunately, you still can enjoy that sophisticated dish for only 3,000 yen to 10,000 yen per person at cheaper restaurants in Japan.
Where to eat kaiseki ryori
The most well known place to eat Kaiseki is at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese Inn). Although Kyoto is the most famous city for kaiseki, you don't have to travel to Kyoto just to try it – it's served at traditional inns all over the country.
I experienced Japanese haute cuisine at the ryokan I stayed at in Kyoto. Although I hesitated at first because of the price. in the end I thought that it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I was right! It was a delicacy I will never forget, and altogether an extremely worthwhile experience in Japan.
I wholeheartedly recommend you give Japanese kaiseki ryori a try the next time you're in Japan!