Kaiseki in Kyoto

Drawing on a fusion of four traditional Japanese cuisines spanning from the 9th to 15th century, Kaiseki is the zenith of Japanese haute cuisine. Kyoto is it’s epicenter.

Kaiseki is a sublime experience in well-rounded hedonistic enjoyment. The inspiration for modernist tasting menus like the one at Ottawa’s Atelier, Kaiseki is an art form based on seasonal food arranged to resemble natural tableaus served in tranquil surroundings… An experience to be enjoyed by all your senses.

Having your first Kaiseki in Kyoto is like experiencing a first love, but only the good bits. You keep wanting more.

The best way to experience Kaiseki for the first time is to stroll along the atmospheric narrow alleys of Ponto-cho. Ponto-cho has been an entertainment district for 100s of years and offers a glimpse of a world that has largely disappeared.

Ponto-Cho street, a narrow alley in Kyoto's entertainment district
Ponto-cho is packed with very exclusive tea houses, geisha, traditional artisan shops,  and very exclusive restaurants where Kaiseki is the height of its gastronomic offerings.
Restaurants on stilts overlooking the Kamogawa River
We had our first (then second… then third) Kaiseki on the eastern side of Ponto-cho on kawayuka (wooden terraces) built on stilts overlooking the Kamogawa river.
View of the terrace
No one spoke English – but it was not needed. The majestic views and food spoke for itself.

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Like a symphony there is a traditional order to the sequencing of food adjusting to the seasons in harmony.

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Sakizuke: appetizer that makes the first impression
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Mukozuke: seasonal sashimi
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Real Wasabi root that you grate yourself on a sharskin grater
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Takiawase: vegetables served with meat/fish/tofu

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Futamono: a lidded dish (soup)

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Yakimono: flame grilled fish
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Su-zakana: vinegared pickle to clean the palate
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Hiyashi-bachi: chilled lightly cooked vegetables
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Naka-choko: palate-cleanser (e.g., acidic soup)

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Shiizakana: a substantial dish such as a hot pot
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Gohan: a rice dish made with seasonal ingredients
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Tome-wan: miso/vegetable soup served with rice

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Mizumono: a seasonal dessert

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For those who can’t make it to Kyoto, in Canada there are a few traditional Kaiseki restaurants including:

Toronto

Vancouver

 

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