Kaiseki at the Japanese Alps
Even though I have been living and enjoying my life in a few mega metropolises for the last 15 years, I grew up in a very tiny quiet village in the middle of the Pampas in Argentina.
So sometimes, Tokyo can be too noisy, too crowded, too hectic, too stressful for a simple mind that needs to relax and chill out.
In those moments is when I feel that nothing else is more repairing than a get away to the nature: to the mountains, the green, the beach, the silence, the peace, the loneliness.
And lucky me, I am fast enough to pack a few things and organize one or two-day trip to those places. The trip does not have to be fancy or luxury or even that comfy.
To be honest, I like camping, making a fire and trekking for hours. I like walking under the rain and wake up before sunrise just for the pleasure of watching the sun and listening to the birds sing.
It is amazing how much the nature has to offer when you have the time, the energy and the wiling to connect with it. My recommendation: “Never waste those precious moments. Never”
Of course, after all these activities, I feel like I deserve the best of the meals. And here is where you get Kaiseki for dinner.
Let´s do some research
Kaiseki is a traditional multi course prefixed Japanese dinner based on different cooking techniques. It is originated from the Buddhist monasteries but with the time it has turned into diverse types of dinner. The term Kaiseki also refers to the collection of skills and techniques that allows the preparation of such meals and are reminiscent of western haute cuisine.
Also, Kaiseki is the balance between taste, texture, appearance and colors of food. Only fresh seasonal ingredients are usually used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor.
Originally, Kaiseki was a very simple vegetarian meal served during the traditional tea ceremony. It was thought that the tea would taste better if the guests were not that hungry, that is why so many dishes were part of the ceremony.
Nowadays, Kaiseki is no longer a strictly vegetarian meal and it is more complex and elaborated. It includes both, meat and fish, and can consist of 6 to 15 different kinds of food. Some of them are:
- Shiizakana (appetizers served with Japanese sake)
- Mukouzuke (sashimi)
- Kuchitori (small side dish)
- Suimono (a soup)
- Nimono (simmered vegetables)
- Aemono (food dressed with sauce)
- Kounomono (Japanese pickles)
- Hassun (food from the mountains and the sea)
- Sunomono (food marinated in vinegar)
- Yakimono (grilled fish)
- Mushimono (steamed food)
- Nabemono (Japanese hot pot)
- Miso soup
The type of food served might change according to the season, the products available and the region.
Back to the mountains
I had the chance to leave Tokyo and spend my last birthday doing some trekking at the Japanese Alps, precisely in Kamikochi area.
This remote mountainous highland valley within the Hida Mountains is located in the western region of Nagano Prefecture. Five hours away by bus or, less than three hours by train from Tokyo, is highly recommended for many outdoor activities and sports such as trekking, hiking, climbing, biking and hot springs among others. During autumn, the scenery cannot be better. Trust me if I tell you that the colors of the mountains turn shiny gold and red.
Camping is definitely a great option if you are adventurous. Ryokans, guesthouses and mountain resorts are also available all over.
This time we decided to stay at the Kamikochi Imperial Palace, which is just in front of the peaks we hiked. This historical almost surreal mountain hotel was the perfect way of finishing a tiring day. And dining in the Japanese restaurant was one of the many highlights of the trip.
The Kaiseki set menu was perfect from start to end. Here is just a glimpse of some of the dishes:
By the end of the dinner I realized that this delicious food made with care and love reminded me a weekend at the grandparents'. Once in a while, no matter how old we are, we all need it.
Please note that the Kamikochi Route is closed from November 15th till the third Friday of April.