What is kaiseki or enkai kaiseki ?

Kaiseki The original from of kaiseki ryori was said to be created by Sen-no-Rikyu.  It is served before the tea ceremony  because matcha  ( Powdered green tea ) is too strong for the empty stomach. Customers of the ceremony can enjoy matcha fully after  kaiseki ryori.

Kaiseki literally means “a stone in the bosom” . It was named after the episode of monks who were under their hunger The principle of the menu is ichiju-sansai (one soup and and three kinds of dishes), using in-season materials. At the tea ceremony, the host/ hostess must do his/ her best to serve costomers including  kaiseki  ryori.

In today’ s Japan, you can have these dishes at the tea ceremony or in kaiseki ryori restaurants. Recently, people misinterpret  the meaning of kaiseki as “ of high class” , and many restaurants in Tokyo are using the word such as  “ soba-kaiseki “ ,  “ sushi-kaiseki “ , or  “ seiyou-kaiseki” ( western-style kaiseki) in order to add some touch of class .

By the way , there is also enkai kaiseki ryori which is supposed to be enjoyed with sake. During the peaceful Edo period , which lasted 300 years in prosperity, restaurant business had emerged and people starred to utilize the restaurants for receptions or meetings.

While preserving some nice factors of the two former dining styles , the enkai kaiseki style was created for dinner parties.

Enkai kaiseki , devised in restaurants, has not strict rules as bonzen or kaiseki has. Customers can enjoy food in relaxed atmosphere. As the time went by , the world of cooking has become borderless. In fact , we call appetizer “zensai”, the word of Chinese origin, instead of “otoushi” or “sakizuke”, traditional Japanese words for appetizer.

While preserving some traditional forms, new style will develop from now on.

However , I am sure, or at least  I hope, the style of today ‘ s enkai kaiseki, which is served in restaurants, is the most popular style among all kinds of Japanese-style meals for the future.

The menu of Japanese cuisine

Now , let me introduce you a typical menu of Japanese cuisine.

The base of Japanese style meals is called “ichiju-sansai” . It consists of one soup and there dishes of   sashimi, yakimono (grilled fish or meat) and nimono (boiled food ).

Agemono  (deep-fried food), sunomono (vinegared food) and mushimono (steamed food), are also served depending on the season, restaurants or your budget. The course finishes with fruit and dessert like western-style or Chinese-style meals.

This is the most common order:


  1. Zensai :  Hors d’oeuvre as in western-style meals. This is supposed to be enjoyed with sake.
  2. Owanmono(sbiru):   Soup
  3. Otsukuri(sasbimi):   fresh raw fish.
  4. Yakimono:   Grilled fish or meat.
  5. Hashiarai:    Soup served in small bowl to refresh the mouth.Recently, sherbet of yuzu, buds of Japanese.Pepper or grated Japanese horseradish is some times served instead of soup.

6.Agemono or Mushimono:   Tempura or steamed turnip, etc.

7.Nimono:   Boiled fish, meat, vegetables or dried foods.

8.(Sunomono):   vinegared food served to refresh the mouth.

When it was alredy served as zensai or in the Middle of the course, this will be skipped.

9.Goban, Sirumono and kou-no-mono:   Rice, soup and Japanese

Pickles. Rice is sometimes replaced with zousui (porridge. of rice and vegetables) or noodles.

10.Kudamono: In-season fruit.

11.Wagasbi and matcha:   Japanese cakes and powdered green tea.

Oshiruko   (adzuki bean soup) or kudzukiri (kudzu curd)

is sometimes served instead of cakes.

Symbolic  number  “5”

As you can see in the menu, there are some extra dishes such as agemono, mushimono and sunomono besides the base dishes of icbiju-sansai.

These are dishes prepared by  5 ways.

The   5 ways are to cut (raw), to boil, to grill, to fry and to steam.

This is not only mine, but also any Japanese Chef’s belief that we should serve food prepared by  5 ways with  5  tastes and   5  colors to entertain the customer’s  5  senses.

The  5  tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy.

The  5  colors are white, black, yellow, red and green.

The  5  senses are sight (enjoyed by the eyes), hearing (sound),  smell  (flavour), tactual . Sense (to enjoy hotness or coldness) and taste.

Japanese cuisine must be enjoyed by customer’s senses, not by the sebse of taste alone.

The beautiful combination of 5 colours stimulate the customers’ appetite.

The flavor , crispiness and great sensation thought the throat are also important for Japanese deshes, and among all, you should enjoy the hotness and coldness by having a hot dish while hot, cold dish while cold.

Five tastes are served to offer variety of dining.

Moreover, we also make some dishes in order to avoid the monotonous of the course, such as hashiarai and hashi-yasume (small dish to refresh the mouth).


Sense of season

In the heart of Japanese cuisine , there certainly is a sense of season, and we must not forget it any circumstances.

As many kinds of green house vegetables, farmed fish and processed foods became available in today’s Japanese market, the sense of season disappeared from the dishes at home.

However, it is most important to use in-season materials when we prepare dishes in restaurants.

It is said that tea ceremony, . and have a skill for flower arrangements and Japanese painting.


“ Meniwa aoba yama botogisu batsugatsuo” by  Sodou

(Green leaves to see, the cuckoo to hear, and early bonito to taste are attractive features in early summer)


By Chef Umesh Kapoor

Image Source – http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2348.html


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