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Constructing Your Own Kaiseki Meal

In November of 2005, my husband and I traveled in Japan, and the one thing that I felt I must experience was a true kaiseki meal. We made reservations at the Hotel Seiyo Ginza’s kaiseki restaurant and had the meal of our lives. I’m sad to say that the hotel is now closed, and I feel fortunate to have stayed in such a luxury hotel and dined in their five-star restaurant. Japanese food, especially kaiseki is one-of-a-kind, and worth every bit of effort expended to make it, serve it, and enjoy it.


On December 5, 2013, the United Nations’ UNESCO organization added traditional Japanese food to its World Heritage list, making washoku (literally “Japanese food”) only the second ever world cuisine to be recognized (the first was traditional French cuisine). source

Why is classic Japanese food so unique that it deserves world recognition? Let’s face it. Most westerners know very little about Japan and even less about their food. Sushi is about as detailed as it gets. But washoku and its haute cuisine sister, kaiseki, are some of the simplest and yet detail-oriented food on the planet. With a basic knowledge of ingredients and traditional staples, you too can construct your own simple kaiseki meal.


What is kaiseki?

Kaiseki literally means “bosom stone” which is quite a perplexing translation, right? But it refers to the heated stones that monks carried in their robes to keep chills away in winter, and morphed into meaning a light meal to ward off hunger. There are two kinds of kaiseki meals: a traditional kaiseki meal that consists of several courses of food in a long sit-down dinner, and a cha-kaiseki meal which is the smaller, tea ceremony version.

Kaiseki is an art form and highlights local and seasonal ingredients. Kikunoi restaurant in Kyoto is a great example of some of the best kaiseki available. Each season, the head chef sources local and seasonal ingredients and prepares small, artistic and elegant dishes meant to showcase the flavors from those ingredients and traditional Japanese dishes.

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12 thoughts on “Constructing Your Own Kaiseki Meal”

  1. Diana Peterfreund

    This is fascinating. One day when we are in the same place we will have to go out for Japanese food. There are a lot of good restaurants in DC, though I admit I tend to ignore most of the menu and stick with sushi. I’d love to have you teach me.

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S. J. Pajonas