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Do You Know the Difference? The Two "KAISEKI" in Washoku

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Fundamentals for a deeper appreciation of Japanese food Do you know that there are two KAISEKI in Washoku? Although they are written in different Chinese characters, "懐石" and "会席," they are pronounced the same, so even the Japanese tend to confuse them. Many people would like to try and taste an authentic KAISEKI course meal in Japan. In this article, we will introduce the origin and history of each of the two types of KAISEKI cuisine, the structure of the course menu, and the manner of eating. (Photo: "Kyo-Kaiseki, Spring" featuring seasonal ingredients of Kyoto (c) Kyoto City Media Support Center) Table of Contents 1. Differentiate "Tea Ceremony - 懐石" and "Sake Banquet - 会席" 2. "The contemporary 懐石", rearranged from "Cha-Kaiseki(茶懐石)" 3. "会席", a party feast born from banquets 4. Summary

1. Differentiate "Tea Ceremony - 懐石" and "Sake Banquet - 会席"

Simply put, 懐石 is a light meal served before enjoying the tea ceremony. In contrast, 会席 is a course meal that has been arranged based on 懐石, and the emphasis is on enjoying sake. Since each of these types of cuisine has developed and changed over time, we will start with "茶懐石(Cha-Kaiseki)" which can be said to be the original form of 懐石. Both 懐石 and 会席 already have the meaning of "cuisine" in their respective names so that we will refer to them without the word "cuisine." 懐石 originated in the Muromachi period (1336-1573) as a simple meal served at tea ceremonies. Initially, it was a simple meal that did not involve drinking, and there were detailed manners based on the tea ceremony. The word 懐石 is written with the Chinese characters for "懐 (chest to abdomen)" and "石(stone)." The Zen sect (a Buddhist sect) introduced tea to Japan, and when monks practiced, they were allowed to eat only one meal a day, so they would place a warm stone on their abdomen to quench their hunger. In the world of the tea ceremony, a simple course meal served before a tea ceremony is called "懐石" because it is meant to satisfy hunger, just like this warm stone. ↑ Rice, miso soup, and Mukozuke, the first three dishes of Cha-Kaiseki In the authentic 懐石, after tasting a series of dishes, one would enjoy "koicha" (濃茶, thick tea, as the name suggests, is very strong tea made by kneading about twice as much matcha as light tea with less hot water) and "usucha" (薄茶, thin tea, commonly drunk in a frothy manner). Since strong tea was considered too stimulating for an empty stomach, They developed the custom of serving a meal before the tea ceremony to entertain guests.

In other words, the authentic 懐石 is a meal served by the host of a tea ceremony to treat the guests. Reflecting the teachings of the tea ceremony of "wabi-sabi*," the basic concept of Cha-Kaiseki is to make the best use of seasonal ingredients in a simple way, without being flashy, and to express hospitality to guests. *the unique beauty of uncomplicated and straightforward things, the taste and depth in quietness and seclusion. Therefore, the basic concept is "一汁三菜(Ichiju-Sansai, one soup, three dishes)" when serving Washoku. Thus, rice is served first, followed by soup, side dishes, and pickles. To avoid confusion, we will call this fundamental course meal served in accordance with tea ceremony as "茶懐石, Cha-Kaiseki" to distinguish it from the "懐石" course served at Japanese-style restaurants nowadays. When making a reservation at a restaurant, it is necessary to confirm whether they offer Cha-Kaiseki if you wish to have it. The following is the order in which Cha-Kaiseki is served. The name and order may vary depending on the school of the tea ceremony. 1. Rice: A very small portion of freshly cooked rice is served to show that the host is waiting for the guests.

2. Soup: The basic soup is miso soup. It is usually made with white miso in the Kansai region, while in the Kanto region, it is usually made with mixed miso.

3. Mukozuke: Sashimi is often served, but it can also be namasu ( vinegared dish ) or salad, depending on the season.

4. Wanmori: The main dish consists of beautifully arranged seasonal ingredients such as seafood and vegetables and yuba (thin tofu skin)covered with clear soup. They usually serve it in a lacquered bowl.

5. ↑Yakimono: grilled fish. This is the end of the traditional Cha-Kaiseki.

6. Shiizakana or Azukebachi: A side dish the host insists on serving when serving sake. This is often a dish that has been fried or deep-fried.

7. Kosuimono: A small portion of soup served in a narrow bowl with a lid. It is also used as a hashi-arai, or chopstick wash, to cleanse and refresh the mouth.

8. ↑ Hassun: A dish consisting of two kinds of delicacies from the mountains and sea. It is called "hassun" because it is served in a square cedar bowl measuring about 24 centimeters(=hassun in Japanese old measurement system) on each side.

9. Yutou: A closing dish in which hot water is poured over browned rice when they cook rice and add a small amount of salt. It can also be roasted rice cooked in hot water. 10. Konomono: About two to three kinds of seasonal pickled vegetables. In Cha-Kaiseki, there is a specific order of eating the first three dishes that are served together on the Oshiki (tray, top photo). You have to leave a mouthful of rice. The fifth, sixth and eighth dishes are served in large bowls, and often include the process of passing the dishes around one by one and appreciating the bowls. In some cases, sake is served, Shiizakana, Kosuimono, and Hassun, are dishes to enhance the taste of sake. Following this course, they will serve koicha and usucha.

2. "The contemporary 懐石", rearranged from "Cha-Kaiseki"

↑ (Photo: "Kyo-Kaiseki, Autumn" (c) Kyoto City Media Support Center) Let me now explain 懐石 as they currently serve at upscale Japanese restaurants. 懐石 is a course meal prepared and served based on the basic concept and aesthetic sense of Cha-Kaiseki. Nowadays, it is more common to enjoy sake along with food. For this reason, unlike Cha-Kaiseki, rice and soup are usually served at the end of the meal. Also, each person does not take a dish from the platter and pass it around. Originality is expressed by increasing the number of dishes changing the order, including meat, Western-style ingredients, and local specialties. The following is the general order in which 懐石 dishes are served. The name, order, and number of dishes may vary depending on the region, restaurant, and price. 1. Sakizuke: Light vegetable dish or vinegared dish. It is a kind of appetizer. 2. Nimono-wan: Same as Cha-Kaiseki. The purpose of nimono(a simmered dish with dashi) is to taste the seasonal ingredients with the dashi broth, and the chef's skill is clearly shown in this dish. 3. Sashimi: An assortment of fresh seasonal seafood. 4. Yakimono: The main dish of 懐石. In addition to seasonal white fish, they may serve wagyu beef, seafood such as abalone, lobster, crab. 5. Susumezakana: An assortment of beautifully cut vegetables and seasonal fish stew. It may be a deep-fried dish as well. 6. Hashiyasume: A small bowl of soup, usually served to wash away the aftertaste of grilled dishes and prepare for the next dish. It can be a steamed dish or a vinegared dish. The photo shows a gorgeous plate of vinegared abalone and steamed matsutake mushrooms in a clay pot (6-b), which is said to be the king of autumn flavors (6-a). 7. Hassun: Several kinds of seafood, vegetables, and delicacies from the mountains and sea. It is meant to deepen the friendship of those present by sharing sake while eating the colorful dishes on the plate. 8. Rice, soup, and pickles: Freshly cooked white rice or takikomi(flavored rice), miso soup, and two to three kinds of pickles. 9. Mizugashi and Matcha: Japanese sweets and seasonal fruits and matcha. Except for rice, soup, and pickles, 懐石 dishes are served in almost the same order as Cha-Kaiseki. The flow and contents of 懐石 dishes described here are just a few examples, so fried or steamed dishes may be served, and the order and contents may differ.

3. "会席," a party feast born from banquets.

懐石 and 会席 are often confused because they are both course-style meals, but there is a big difference. 会席 is a course meal that includes meals and drinks. The primary purpose of 会席 is to enjoy a party or gathering with drinks. Today, 会席 is served at wedding receptions, celebration parties, and other occasions where people enjoy sake and food in a relaxed and festive atmosphere. There are no strict rules of etiquette, and general Washoku etiquette is all that is required. The word "会席" was initially used to refer to haiku(Japanese seventeen-syllable poem) gatherings in the Edo period, but gradually the word "会席" came to refer to the meals served at haiku gatherings. It was based on Cha-Kaiseki but developed as a meal for drinking parties. Nowadays, shabu-shabu, steak, and gorgeous seafood dishes such as lobster appear as main dishes. This is because 会席, which developed as a banquet course, emphasized luxury and extravagance to show the host's wealth. In addition, to please the guests' eyes and palates, the cooks developed a lot of knife skills, such as cutting vegetables into decorative pieces. The flow of 会席 is as follows. It follows the previously mentioned 懐石, but with more freedom, so there is more variety in the ingredients used for the meal and the incorporation of Japanese and Western cooking methods.

1. Sakizuke: An elaborate appetizer to be enjoyed with drinks.

2. Sashimi: Seasonal sashimi of fresh fish.

3. Nimono: Same as Cha-Kaiseki, but it is not positioned as the main course. In the case of the photo above, the main dish course includes meat and seafood and is a large serving, so it is omitted from the course.

4. Agemono: Deep-fried dish, such as tempura.

5. Yakimono: The main dish, such mostly grilled fish or steak, lobster, shabu-shabu, sukiyaki, etc.

6. Mushimono: Steamed dish or a vinegared dish to wash away the aftertaste of grilled dishes and prepare for the next dish.

7. Rice, miso soup, and pickles: Instead of regular rice, kamameshi(flavored rice cooked in a ceramic pot), sushi, etc.

8. Mizugashi: After-dinner dessert. Seasonal fruits, ice cream, cakes, and other assorted sweets.

The order of serving is not always the same. In general, chefs change the order and the number of dishes depending on the volume and content of the main course.

4. Summary

(Photo: "Kyoto Kaiseki, Summer" (c) Kyoto City Media Support Center)

Now that we have explained the difference between 懐石 and 会席, we would like to share with you some tips on how to approach tasting Japanese food.

First, enjoy the food with all your senses. Enjoy the dishes and the arrangement with your eyes, and take a moment to savor aromas from dashi and other seasonal ingredients such as yuzu (Japanese citrus) and fragrant buds and sprouts, as well as the texture of the ingredients and the sound they make when you bite into them.

It is also essential to feel the seasonality of the dishes served in front of you, including the space where you eat. For example, glassware is used in the summer to give a cool and refreshing feeling. Therefore, even the dishes used in Japanese cuisine reflect the seasons. By looking around the dining space, you can also sense the hospitality of the owner and chef through the flowers and paintings.

Also, there is no need to be overly concerned with formalities unless it is a strict tea ceremony. If there is an ingredient you have never seen before or do not know how to eat, it is not rude to ask the waitstaff or the chef if you are seated at the counter. The person serving the food is also looking for communication with the person receiving the food. The best part of being a professional in food and hospitality is responding appropriately to your reactions and interests.

Now, don't you want to taste your own "KAISEKI"?

JCI's Japanese Cuisine Chef Training Course teaches the skills and seasonal presentation of both traditional, austere, dignified 懐石 and the more contemporary, beautiful, sumptuous, extravagant, and easygoing style of会席. The JCI instructors also teach the delightful hospitality that only cuisine can provide.

Only at JCI can you learn all of the menus presented here, which delve into the culture and history of Washoku.

Click here to make an inquiry.


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