kaiseki ryori

Kaiseki-ryori is an artistic and gracious Japanese seasonal cuisine. In fact, it can be said that kaiseki ryori is the ultimate Japanese cuisine. In Japanese, ryori means dishes, so what does “kaiseki” mean? The meaning comes from the story that said Buddhist priests in strict Zen training used to keep a hot stone (seki) in their kimono pocket (kai) in order to make their fasting more bearable. The kaiseki-ryori was originally served during traditional tea ceremonies and is also called cha (tea) kaiseki. It was thought that the tea would taste better if the people weren’t starved. So the word “kaiseki” is used for the light meal served during the tea ceremony.

Kaiseki-ryori uses the fresh ingredients of the season and are cooked in ways that enhance the original taste of the ingredients.

Each dish is simply seasoned and presented beautifully in nice dinnerware. Often, things from nature, such as tree leaves and flowers, accompany the dish. Kaiseki-ryori was vegetarian in its origin, but nowadays, the modern kaiseki meal may include meat and seafood.

Japanese people go to a kaiseki restaurant during special occasions. If you need to entertain your special guests, kaiseki-ryori is a good choice. Kaiseki is a meal of courses, consisting of a number of small dishes: steamed dishes, simmered dishes, and grilled dishes. It often includes sliced raw fish (sashimi), tempura, grilled fish, soup, rice, and so on.

The basic cha kaiseki course served in a tea ceremony includes one kind of soup and three kinds of vegetable dishes. In addition, a cup of clear soup called hashiarai (which means washing chopsticks), a plate called hassun, which presents a few kinds of vegetables and seafood, and pickles called konomono.

Although each dish holds only a small serving, it’s good to take your time to eat, being sure to enjoy the presentation of the food and the atmosphere of the room. Most kaiseki restaurants are high class and very formal. Consequently, the kaiseki-ryori is usually expensive, since it takes time and skill to prepare. If you eat a course in a kaiseki restaurant, it can cost more than 20,000 yen ($150) per person. Some restaurants are even more expensive. But don’t worry, you can also order boxed meals called kaiseki-bento or mini-kaiseki in most of the kaiseki restaurants. These are more reasonably priced and are suitable for lunch. Mini-kaiseki can be under 5,000 yen ($40) per person. Each kaiseki restaurant’s prices vary, so you should be able to find a restaurant to match your budget. Just remember to make a reservation. Some Japanese inns serve kaiseki dinner for guests, especially in Kyoto. Outside of Japan, sushi restaurants tend to serve mini-kaiseki.

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