In the evening of our day in Nara, we had a traditional Japanese kaiseki meal served in one of the hotel’s several dining rooms. Kaiseki meals consist of many small courses which are served some one after another and some in groups. There are traditional correct orders and ways to eat the courses but with our limited knowledge and the limited English of the staff we just got on with it and hoped not to cause any offence!
We weren’t sure how formal the setting would be so we didn’t bring cameras to photograph the food and we regretted it almost immediately as the food was as brilliantly presented as it was delicious. Several of the other diners were also snapping away on their phones and cameras so we wouldn’t have been the only uncouth tourists there either! Photos in this post are courtesy of wikimedia commons.
There were so many courses that I struggle to remember them all but here is a list of what I do remember roughly in the order they arrived:
- Sakizuke – a kind of amuse-bouche consisting of sweets, a kind of marshmallow, a shrimp, some ham and a small glass of sweet umeshu plum wine.
- Sashimi served on a bowl made of ice with soy and wasabi. I think there was tuna, scallops and some kind of white fish which I didn’t recognise.
- A grilled mackerel.
- Next 2 charcoal braziers were placed on the table and we were brought a selection of meats and vegetables as well as various condiments. With enthusiastic hand gestures we were encouraged to place the meat and veg on the grill with our chopsticks and cook to our liking. I was worried this would be tricky with my rudimentary chopstick abilities but was actually very natural. Everything was very tasty but the beef especially was the best I have ever had. It was already seared when it arrived and I could probably have eaten it as it arrived but I cooked it for a few seconds for the experience. It was very tasty and extremely tender too.
- Tempura was next I think, large and tasty prawns and some horribly tough spring onions.
- Now things started to come in quick succession, usually only one or two items at a time but each appearing before the last was finished and nothing cleared away until the end. We had 2 different soup dishes, rice and more sashimi. There was also an egg custard dish which had tiny little whole fish suspended in it which was the only thing in the whole meal that I wouldn’t have again.
- When we had finished with the above it was cleared away to make room for dessert which was a mango flavoured pudding with cream. We ordered more umeshu which was tricky given our language impairment and we ended up getting a kind of spritzer rather than the neat drink we were after but it was still a good ending to a lovely meal.
I don’t generally eat fish and rarely eat anything raw so I was a bit concerned about this meal beforehand but I was very pleasantly surprised. Not only did I eat everything except the egg custard but I also enjoyed everything that I ate. I would definitely recommend having at least one meal like this to anyone visiting Japan. You can also have them served in your room in a lot of places if you ask in advance which can cut down on anxiety related to eating odd foods for the first time in front of strangers! It would also have meant that I would have been able to photograph the food rather than just describing it.
When we returned to our room after dinner, staff had visited to clear the tables away and set out the futon beds for us to sleep on. It seemed rude not to take advantage of this helpful assistance.