Traditional Kaiseki Cuisine at a Japanese Ryokan

kaiseki1 The theme of this month’s J-Festa blogging showcase is “Dining in Japan,” which sounded like an excellent excuse to share some more photos from my recent trip to Hakone. A major highlight of the trip was a stay in a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan. My classmates and I were exhausted from 8 weeks of intensive Japanese classes, so we decided to indulge in a night at the Hotel Senkei in Hakone Yumoto. In addition having access to a great outdoor hot spring on the rooftop, we were served some simply amazing traditional Japanese cuisine in the comfort of our own room. kaiseki2 Kaiseiki cuisine (懐石料理) is a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner, prepared and presented with amazing skill and often incorporating fresh seasonal ingredients. Both dinner and breakfast were included with our hotel stay, and I can honestly say that it was an overwhelming amount of delicious and interesting food. But instead of going on and on, I think I’ll just share some pictures and show you what I’m talking about. I honestly don’t know (or remember) what every item was, but I will try to point out items when possible. If you know what these dishes are, feel free to enlighten me in the comments! DINNER kaiseki3 Let’s start with the aerial view of the initial setup (more food came later, believe it or not). I think the most exciting part was the tray of five items on the right (featured above in the very first photo of this post). The middle item was particularly exciting—a turban molusk eaten out of its shell. The wooden container contained rice; it was placed on top of a flame and allowed to cook while we ate the first portion of our meal. The metal container was similarly cooked right at the table. When it was done, I had a tasty seafood stew: kaiseki7 But while those items were bubbling away, we had a number of dishes to keep us busy: kaiseki4kaiseki5 Tuskemono (pickled items) and sashimi kaiseki8 Eggplant topped with unagi (eel)—so rich!

 kaiseki6kaiseki9 I’m not sure what these two items were—but they were tasty! kaiseki10 Fried crab also arrived toward the end of the meal, accompanied by some kabocha chips BREAKFAST kaiseki11 So many little treats, accompanied by rice, miso soup and green tea! kaiseki12kaiseki13 Tsukemono and salad

kaiseki14kaiseki15 kaiseki16kaiseki17 An assortment of seaweed, yogurt, meat, egg, and more! kaiseki18 And the fish, the star of the show! Anyway, it was a truly satisfying culinary experience. If you can arrange it, I strongly recommend staying at a ryokan and enjoying some kaiseki cuisine at some point. Our room, dinner, breakfast and unlimited onsen access cost us about 16,900 yen each—not cheap, but a good value considering all that was included. You may be able to find better deals elsewhere, but Hakone is a particularly popular tourist destination, so this was the best deal I could find. By the way, I also had an amazing experience at a tofu kaiseki restaurant earlier this year, which I really should post about at some point. Imagine the things above—except everything is tofu! :)

Note: This post is also being submitted to the 2011 Special Edition of J-Festa.

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