Kaiseki – The ultimate Japanese dining experience

Do you love Japanese food? Sushi, sashimi, wagyu beef, tempura – there are so many delicious dishes to choose from. If you are as crazy about Japanese food as we are, then you cannot miss out on having a real kaiseki meal!

The autumn kaiseki meal at Shoho.

Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner made up of dozens of small dishes with different tastes and textures. It is considered the most refined form of washoku (Japanese cuisine), which was designated as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. With fresh seasonal ingredients and delicious flavor combinations that are carefully selected and beautifully presented to you, kaiseki is definitely a must-try for anyone visiting Japan.

The open kitchen of Shoho’s restaurant: Seasonal vegetable dining “Shinshu”.

Kaiseki meals are often served in Japanese-style inns or ryokan. At Shoho in Matsumoto City, a kaiseki dinner is included in your stay and served in the in-house restaurant ‘Seasonal vegetable dining “Shinshu”’. Renewed in 2017, the open kitchen gives you a look into the intricacies of making a Japanese meal while the rest of the restaurant has a relaxing atmosphere so you can enjoy your dinner to the fullest. Besides the spacious main area of the restaurant, there are also several private rooms available.

One of the private dining rooms at Shoho.

If you want to make the best out of your Japanese dining experience, change into the yukata you’ll find in your room before going to the restaurant. Then sit down, relax, order some Japanese sake and wait for the dishes to arrive. Once they have, take you chopsticks, say “itadakimasu” (literally “I humbly receive (this food)”) and enjoy the best that Japan has to offer.

Why not pair your kaiseki meal with a glass of local sake?

The number of courses included in a kaiseki meal may differ, but it usually contains an appetizer, a sashimi course, cooked dishes, a rice course, and a dessert. A typical kaiseki meal at Shoho may include the following courses.

食前酒 (shokuzenshu) – Aperitif
A small (non-alcoholic) beverage to start of the meal.

前菜 (zensai) – Appetizer
Several bite-sized hors-d’oeuvres.

Although drinking the aperitif will whet your appetite, drinking alcohol on an empty stomach is not the best idea. That’s where the appetizer comes in. The appetizer is an introduction to all the wonderful dishes that are yet to come.

A selection of dishes from a kaiseki meal. Local vegetables and sashimi.

御造り (otsukuri) – Sashimi
An assortment of thinly sliced raw fish.

御凌ぎ (oshinogi) – Small Dish
A light in-between dish used to tide you over to the next meal.

握り寿司 (nigirizushi) – Sushi
The most famous Japanese food in the world.

ずわい蟹のしゃぶしゃぶ (zuwaigani no shabushabu) – Snow Crab Shabu Shabu
This hot pot dish features snow crab as its main ingredient.

茶碗蒸し (chawanmushi) – Steamed Egg Custard
Classic steamed egg custard that is silky, smooth and savory.

信州和牛のステーキ (shinshuwagyu no sute-ki) – Shinshu Beef Steak
A delicious slice of local Shinshu (another name for Nagano) wagyu beef.

天ぷら (tempura) – Tempura
A selection of deep-fried seafood or vegetables.

From lightly flavored food to strongly flavored food. From a relatively simple tasting dish to a more flavorful, greasier dish. If it wasn’t for this serving order, the different flavor complexities of the dishes would be difficult to understand.

How the dishes are plated and how the combined flavors work together is an important aspect of kaiseki meals.

食事(ご飯・汁物・御新香)(shokuji) – Rice, Soup and Pickles
No meal is complete without a serving of rice, soup and pickled vegetables.

デザート (deza-to) – Dessert
A dessert to top off the kaiseki meal.

Every human needs their daily intake of carbs and that is why the course ends with a small portion of rice. Eating food with carbs last has been said to be good for you, and it is certainly better for your blood-sugar level than eating your rice in the beginning.

The colors and ingredients of the dishes represent the season it is served in, which is autumn in this case.

When you’re finished with your kaiseki meal, don’t forget to say “Gochiso-sama deshita”, which translates to “It was a feast”.

After this wonderful meal, you might try another beloved part of traditional Japanese culture: hot springs. Click here to check out our blog on Shoho’s luxurious hot springs if you want to know more.

For more information on Shoho, click here.

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