It’s been a while since I wrote about Japan because a.) Finance class is a lot of work, and b.) I wasn’t quite sure how to tackle the topic of food. I know it sounds crazy, but after almost 3 weeks and lots of amazing food it has been almost overwhelming to figure out what to say. Hence I finally finished my Finance homework and decided to break down the big meals. The first meal, which is also the most important meal, is the Kaiseki. The Japanese kaiseki is a very traditional meal, which we were served while staying in a Ryokan. This meal was eaten while wearing yukatas and sitting on the floor. Arriving at the meal was even an adventure. In order to enter the dinner, we had to be on our knees outside of the room, open the door with both hands, speak to the men inside, slide across the threshold on our knees, turn and close the door with both hands, walk across the room to the corner and appreciate the decorations, and finally take our seat. I’m tired just repeating all of that.
To begin the meal, we drank shots of sake. I would like to add that this was the first time in my life I have ever had a shot of anything, and I was not forewarned about what was coming. I was fine until about halfway down my throat started to burn and I thought I might die. Needless to say I don’t care much for shots os sake. Anyways, when were first seated our tray held all sorts of interesting foods.
***As an aside in Japan, the dishes are almost as important as the food itself. While looking at the pictures make sure to appreciate the beauty in the dishes in order to truly understand the dinner. Also for reference, the dishes are important enough to the meal that people actually have different dishes for different seasons. On to the pictures…
This is part of the first course: there were 2 little fish (I didn’t eat them, but according to Elizabeth they were really salty), a persimmon, some kind of rice thing in the middle, and two vegetables that I have never heard of or seen before. The green one was like celery but not really. I can’t even describe it, but I’m sure it’s related to celery. The yellow stuff at the top of the plate is some kind of rare and expensive vegetable. It’s supposed to bring you good luck if you eat it during the new year celebration. The texture on the outside was sandpaper like, while the inside was gummy, chewy, and crunchy all in one. I didn’t care of it, and I will continue to just eat cheap black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for my luck.
This is a broth soup made from dashi broth. Dashi is water boiled with kelp and bonita flake. Bonita is a type of fish that has been dried and then shaved to make the flakes. Also in this soup are two different mushrooms, a striped mochi (sticky rice flour) ball, and a brick of soft tofu. The mochi ball was my favorite.
This is chicken sausage. It is raw in this picture and in the next you can see how we cooked it. I love how this is served in a piece of bamboo. The artistry of the presentation is amazing. Also note the thing that looks like a little cup in the picture…another sake cup. I believe it had unfiltered sake in it. The alcohol content of unfiltered sake is a whopping 18%. I tasted it and I don’t know how people managed to drink a whole cup of it!
Here is the cooking pot. There are mushrooms, leeks, and scallops in there already, and then you put the chicken in and let it cook…once it’s cooked you take it out and dip it into the container of sauce and eat it. AMAZING. Unfortunately, I did not get a picture of my main course for this meal, which was kobi beef. It was served almost rare and was the finest beef I’ve ever eaten. It was so tender that it almost melted in my mouth. It was also the first time I’ve ever eaten steak with chopsticks!
This is a piece of white fish – when asked what kind of fish the response is always white, red, or tuna – a pickle like thing, a jelly that is made from some kind of root vegetable, which I don’t care for, and a mum…yes I ate a flower. I was soggy and very watery. Here’s the last picture from dinner. I don’t have a picture of dessert, but it must have been good since I was too busy to take a photo.
This is a warm egg pudding. I hated it the first time I tried, but the more I ate the more I liked it. I think this one had beans and a shrimp inside of it. Japanese people love this stuff. It actually tastes like scrambled eggs in a pudding mixture.
The kaiseki was a more than just a fancy dinner, it was a true culinary experience. I feel blessed to be able to tell people that I have experienced such a dinner. If you have any questions feel free to let me know and look for the next couple of entries which should be about the “westernized kaiseki” and a little bit of Chinese food in Japan. I’ll also talk about my cooking class and making little panda sushi!