Kaiseki preparation is regarded as a sophisticated culinary art that requires many, many years of training, and considerable cultural knowledge. Kyoto is home to many of Japan’s finest kaiseki establishments.
Kaiseki’s origins can be found in the traditional cha kaiseki, but later evolved into an elaborate dining style popular among aristocratic circles in the Muromachi period (1333-1576). The term kaiseki is currently used to describe gorgeous Japanese course meals in general.
In the present day, kaiseki is a type of art form that balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food. To this end, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavor.
Dishes are beautifully arranged and garnished, often with real leaves and flowers, as well as edible garnishes designed to resemble natural plants and animals.
Composition of a Kaiseki Course
Kaiseki meals have a prescribed order to their dishes, most of which are prepared by using one of the common techniques of Japanese cooking. However, kaiseki chefs have considerable freedom to add, omit or substitute courses in order to highlight regional and seasonal delicacies and personal styles. Below is a list of courses as they typically appear in a kaiseki meal:
A light appetizer served with a small ceremonial cup of sake.
Three, five or seven hors d’oeuvres arranged on a single plate in a still life to express the season.
A platter or individual arrangement of sashimi (raw fish) with dipping sauces.
Clear soup with seafood and vegetables, served in a lidded bowl.
A grilled dish (usually fish), either coated with salt or glazed with teriyaki (a sweetened soy-based sauce)
Also called ”takiawase”; a medley of simmered seafood and vegetables. Or a medley of fish and vegetables cooked in a pot.
Hanmono or Shokuji
Rice, pickles and tomewan, the final bowl of soup of the meal.
Fruit or dessert, either Japanese or Western.
Here’s Niki Nakayama, chef-owner of LA kaiseki restaurant n/naka, plating a selection of poetic dishes from her 13-course tasting menu and intimately explaining what kaiseki means to her.
Visit theartofplating.com to learn more.
Chef’s Cut: The Art of Kaiseki with Niki Nakayama from The Art of Plating on Vimeo.