On our anniversary day in September, we enjoyed Kaiseki-ryori (会席料理) at “Michiba” in Ginza. The food was absolutely fabulous and we were super full after the dinner, though the each serving was actually quite small.
For those who are wondering “What is Kaiseki?”, Kaiseki was served for haiku poets during a Haiku gathering in the old days and refers now to the Japanese course meal served for a banquet. Kaiseki usually consists of an appetizer (Sakizuke-先付け), soup (Wanmono-椀物), Sashimi (Mukouzuke-向付), grilled dish (Hachizakana-鉢肴), simmered dish (Shiizakana-強肴), rice (Shokuji-食事) and dessert (Mizugashi-水菓子). This is of course just a template and the menu really depends on the chef. It could for example have pickled dish or fried dish as well.
Now, let me go through what we had at Michiba!
We were served this beautiful plate as an appetizer. It tasted as good as it looks! I am generally not much fan of salmon eggs (the one in the middle), but apparently it tastes nice when served in a steamed egg custard (Chawanmushi-茶碗蒸し).
We had two choices for the next dish. So we decided to take one each.
Victor tried turtle for the first time. He was excited to learn that it gives you an energy boost.
When you eat Dobin-Mushi, you first pour the soup into a small cup, which looks like a sake cup, and drink the soup like a cup of tea. Afterwards, you open the tea pot and finish the ingredients. I very much enjoyed the nice scent of Matsutake. But be aware that some of those who are unfamiliar with Matsutake say that it smells like used socks.
Well, I guess there is no need to explain how delicious fresh sashimi is. And if you wonder what kind of fish those are, I will simply tell you that being a Japanese does not equal being a fish expert.
The next dish was super interesting. This is a tofu with shrimp and scallop on seaweed grilled on a stone. I know many westerners are not fan of tofu because of its texture and tastelessness, but this is nothing like the tofu you know of. It is filled with great savor.
As we are on the half way of the course, we had a nice break with a little piece of sea bream wrapped in tofu skin.
For the next dish, we had five choices and I chose to have a stone-steamed Japanese beef.
Victor says that he would never dare to eat a meat this raw outside of Japan. As Japanese cherish the taste of ingredients, many prefer to eat everything as raw as it can be. Especially when it comes to a good beef, chefs always recommend it raw because, well, it is how you taste the REAL taste of beef. I know that some of you might be afraid of food poisoning, but I humbly request that you risk your life to really respect the life of the cow.
Victor chose to have a whole head of fish. Eating a whole head could be challenging mentally and PHYSICALLY for those who are not familiar. It is really hard to remove bones and pick meat with chopsticks sometimes even for a Japanese. When you finally finish the hard part, you get to appreciate the fish (Well, the head of it).
For the last dish before dessert, I chose this healthy congee out of 5 choices. It really warms up your abused stomach.
Victor chose curry udon with an excitement to see how the usually cheap food will be served at this luxurious restaurant. The udon noodle was Sanuki udon which is much thinner than usual udon. The fact that my grandpa only eats Sanuki udon and never a usual udon proves its savor.
To finish up the course, we’ve got a chestnut sweet and fig jelly served with yogurt source. This dessert is honestly nothing special, but this light dessert is fitting after such a huge course menu. When you calm yourself with a sip of Matcha , you are through with this delicious journey. Though it’s no fun when you have to pay in the end, the journey toward the end is full of experiences.
If you are fan of Sake like Victor, they also have wide range of Sake for you to try.
For those interested in Japanese cuisine, here’s a little trivia. There are three types of Japanese authentic cuisine; Kaiseki-ryori (懐石料理), Kaiseki-ryori (会席料理) and Honzen-ryori (本膳料理). They all use seasonal ingredients and similar in many ways, but they are indeed all different. Honzen-ryori is the oldest style which started during Muromachi period (1336-1573) and is very formal with many rules to follow, but it is nearly obsolete and found only at weddings and funerals. Both Kaiseki have developed from Hozen-ryori for different purposes. Kaiseki written as 懐石 is for tea ceremony and the main purpose is to avoid drinking strong Matcha tea with empty stomach because it might make you feel sick. Therefore, the menu starts with little rice and the overall quantity is small. Kaiseki-ryori written as 会席 is the one we had at Michiba. This one is basically for enjoying Sake. If you still cannot stop confusing the two Kaiseki-ryori, don’t worry: many Japanese confuse them too. What’s important is that some smart Japanese has created delicious healthy cuisine for you to enjoy.
As you can see from the pictures above, Kaiseki includes many dishes which are super uncommon in the West. You get for example the entire head of a fish which might be creepy for some westerners. The seasoning is also quite simple because it focuses on the taste of ingredients and you might find it tasteless if you are used to dishes with gravy and the like. To be honest, I know quite a few westerners who didn’t really enjoy the food. Besides, Kaiseki is usually quite pricy. However, if you are willing to try something very unfamiliar or you are tired of greasy hamburgers, Kaiseki is definitely worth a try.
In case you are interested, here’s a link to the restaurant presented above: http://www.kaishoku-michiba.jp