4 Things To Know About Kaiseki—The Japanese Art Of Fine Dining
It's a historic and visually stunning culinary artform
Kaiseki is a traditional multi-course meal, perhaps easily understood as the Japanese equivalent of Western haute cuisine. It dates back to the 16th century when the royal court began holding ritual banquets and is of utmost importance in Japan's culinary repertoire. "Our philosophy at Kaiseki Yoshiyuki is that we first eat food with our eyes. I would like for our guests to experience a meal that is beautifully harmonised and a seasonal expression of edible art," says chef Yoshiyuki Kashiwabara who heads one of the only authentic kaiseki restaurants in Singapore.
Every aesthetic detail means something
Kaiseki is first a visual symphony celebrating the current season. From the plates to the garnishes, everything has a certain significance. In the spring, the cherry blossom flower is incorporated as a flavour and as a garnish, while during summer chefs use clear glass plates to impart a cooling feeling. Come autumn, expect to find chrysanthemums on the table. Unlike most flowers which bloom in spring, this special flower flourishes during autumn. In kaiseki cooking, chefs slice squid and turnips in the form of the chyrsanthemum, which is also a revered symbol in Japanase culture.
The courses are wholly based on ingredients in season
Seasonality is extremely important in Japan culinary culture and integral to the kaiseki experience. Notable ingredients include the Matsutake mushroom in autumn, a fungi often compared to white truffle and prized for its flavour and fragrance. Like white truffle, Matsutake mushrooms can only be found in the wild and cannot be farmed. In winter, chefs and diners look for crabs as they're sweeter and jucier at this time of the year. "The snow crab is a particular winter delicacy. There is a fishing ban on snow crabs—males can only be caught from November to March, while females only from November to January—and this makes them extra special," stresses chef Yoshiyuki.
You're sure to have fish in its prime
"Fish is one of the staple ingredients in Japan and always part of the kaiseki experience," he adds. "We serve them at their best, during the season when they are most fatty." For instance, katsuo (bonito) typically stay in the open ocean during spring and summer then migrate inshore during autumn hence they're tastier at this time. While available throughout the year, buri (Japanese amberjack) is considered to be at its peak during the winter migration when they're fattier and more flavourful.
(Related: Where And What To Eat In Okinawa)