Kaiseki, the ultimate Japanese art of fine dining
A multi course Japanese style haute cuisine kaiseki dinner? You should really eat dinner and breakfast in a ryokan at least once when you visit Japan.
We are fond of Japanese cuisine.
Pretty sure that it is in our top 5 of best cuisines around the world.
Have you ever eaten Japanese before?
And we don’t mean sushi or udon noodle soups by that.
What do you know about authentic Japanese food?
Does kaiseki ring a bell?
In Tokyo we visited one of the best traditional izakaya restaurants and loved it.
However kaiseki haute cuisine will leave you speechless.
We spent 14 days in Japan.
Traveling from Tokyo by train to Mount Fuji, Kyoto and Osaka.
We stayed 3 times in a ryokan.
A traditional Japanese hotel or guest house with tatamis on the floor, shoji paper sliding screen doors and separate open air hot spring baths for women and men. Each one of our rooms also came with a private ‘onsen’ hot tub as well.
But an experience like this isn’t cheap.
So what is the link between a ryokan hotel and kaiseki food?
What is kaiseki cuisine
Dinner at a ryokan usually is a kaiseki dinner.
It is called kaiseki ryori to be more specific, which is multi course Japanese style haute cuisine.
The ingredients are local and seasonal. The dishes are one after another little artworks. A kaiseki chef is able to display his knife skills and Japanese cooking techniques.
And yes, we were blown away.
Like we already mentioned above, we stayed 3 times in a ryokan during our trip:
- Gora Kadan, Hakone
- Togetsusou Kinryu, Shuzenji
- Nishimuraya Honkan, Toyooka
And we loved every one of them.
What an experience!
How to stay at a ryokan
You will receive slippers when you check in.
Checkin is always a breeze.
A staff member takes you to your room.
It looks quite empty.
That is because your dinner table and bed will be set and made for you later on. Your personal room attendant will come to greet you.
A pot of welcome tea is usually served, along with a couple of Japanese sweets or biscuits.
Time to settle in, unpack, enjoy a hot spring bath and relax.
Put on your yukata, your room attendant will be more than happy to help you put it on right.
Depending on the ryokan you are staying at, your kaiseki dinner will be served at a specific time. Your room attendant will set your dinner table and serve you during your entire kaiseki meal. Yes, these Japanese dinner tables are very low so you will practically sit on the floor during your entire meal. It is quite a challenge.
So let’s talk about kaiseki food!
How many courses are there in kaiseki?
A kaiseki meal consists of several courses.
The portions are small but believe us, you will be stuffed and more after you finish. What can you expect on a kaiseki menu: sashimi, seafood, meat, fish, cooked vegetables, rice, soup, tofu, pickled vegetables, a hot pot, dessert and tea.
The amount of courses and in which order they are served is something that the chef decides.
Kaiseki Japanese cuisine
Where to begin.
Since we attended 3 kaiseki menu dinners, summing up each and every dish we had would be quite a task.
That is why we will stick to a collection of courses from all 3 kaiseki dinners, dishes that we can still remember vividly.
Just to give you an idea of what type of dishes and ingredients to expect if you want to go for a traditional kaiseki dinner. It might not seem like a lot but you will be more than satisfied afterwards.
Your dinner will start off with a couple of cold dishes.
Stuffed lotus root, chestnut, mushrooms, salmon roe, pumpkin, steamed root vegetables and so on.
Sea urchin on shiso leaf, local crab, sashimi. Impeccable flavors, super fresh ingredients. And the presentation again is absolutely stunning.
Crab dumpling soup, succulent chicken with yuzu, wagyu hotpot.
To end the meal
Dessert is usually a fruit creation.
We loved this poached pear with chestnut cream. Another traditional course at the end of your kaiseki meal is steamed rice with miso soup and pickled vegetables.
Just in case you still aren’t feeling full yet.
Drinks are not included.
We would always drink Japanese beer with our kaiseki dinners, and order a bottle of cold sake as well.
Prices are not cheap.
You can of course stick to tea if you like.
The moment your multi course dinner is finished, your room attendant will clear the dinner table and make your beds. Futons, mattresses, pillow and duvets are put on the tatami.
Usually the attendant will also leave another pot of hot tea in your room to end the evening with. You will need to lay down after such a copious dinner.
It might not look like a lot, but a kaiseki dinner is a silent killer.
And before you know it, it is early morning.
You room attendant will have asked you the evening before when you want to have breakfast. While you get ready for the day, your beds will be removed and the table will be put back.
Breakfast in a ryokan can consists of several dishes such as fresh tofu, rice, (grilled) fish, pickled vegetables, sweet tamagoyaki omelet, seaweed, fruits, soup, soft boiled tamago onsen eggs etc.
In other words, another heavenly feast!
All served with hot tea.
How much does kaiseki cost?
We mentioned it before.
A traditional kaiseki dinner is very expensive. We spend for one night in a ryokan with a kaiseki dinner on average about 700 to 900 euros.
And yes, that is a lot.
But is it worth it?
Would we do a kaiseki dinner again?
It is well worth it.
We recommend you eat both dinner and breakfast at a ryokan at least once when you visit Japan.
We would definitely book another kaiseki dinner when we are back again.
What a feast.
What never seen before flavor explosions.
Is kaiseki for everyone?
You have to love food and be open for new flavors and preparation techniques.
If you leave half of your dinner untouched, that’s a total waste of money.
If you expect sushi or noodle soups, you will be very disappointed.
The sashimi for instance is not the classic tuna or salmon sashimi we all know. Be ready for raw sweet water shrimp, raw abalone and raw squid for instance.
If you have food allergies, let your ryokan know beforehand.
Your room attendant will likely ask you the same when you arrive.