Visiting Japan is a feast of the eyes and the taste buds
I have been many times and each time I have been lucky to experience a slice of traditional Japanese culture and cuisine.
The first thing that struck me about Japanese cuisine served in Japan was just how much fried food there was. Noodle soups were next and then the sushi stalls. Often, each food item was honorably displayed in plastic and adorned the entrance of most restaurants. That way, even if you couldn’t say what you wanted, you could at least point!
On one of my trips to Japan, I stayed in a traditional Japanese hotel called a ryokan. It was right out of a 1950s movie about Japan, complete with rice paper doors, tatami floor mats, a Japanese scroll on the wall with the requisite black swirly characters and of course the small bath tub in which you soak after soaping and rinsing off – the best way to bathe.
For dinner, the attendants served what they referred to as Kaiseki (懐石) and it was a feast! There were about 10 plates or bowls all nicely arranged on a wooden, lacquered black tray.
Each dish was an objet d’art.
One bowl had four slices of fresh yellowtail topped with a yellow mustard wasabi and a few balls of fish eggs. Then, a beautiful white china low bowl that featured miniature eggplants which had been roasted and was topped with a miso based sauce. And another, a piece of grilled freshwater bass with a green leaf decoration with some dark purple pickles to the side. It was all accompanied by a bowl of glistening white rice and a steamy hot covered bowl of miso soup.
Kaiseki’s origins started with monks and referred to a fairly simple meal.
Then in modern times, the meal turned into more of a feast meant for the Emperor. It was inspired by food from four specific food traditions – that of the Emperor, of Monks, of Samurai and of those associated with the tea ceremony. All items are seasonal and locally grown in most cases.
During that same trip, awake at 5 AM because of jet lag, I saw a real Geisha getting into a Rolls Royce. I was told it was so rare to see a Geisha – it was magnificent.