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Appreciate Washoku (Japanese cuisine) essence with your five senses Part 1
Recall the dishes you ate and the seasons when you had them by fragrancesIn the previous feature, I briefly talked about surprises that I got from the fragrances and textures of the dishes. In this feature, I would like to talk in more depth about fragrances and textures of dishes.First of all, fragrances are essential element in Washoku. When we have a dish, the first thing that kept in our mind is its fragrance. For example, you feel like eating Barazushi (a kind of sushi with a lot of vegetables mixed in) that your grandmother made. Your mother used her recipe and made it with the same ingredients. However, the Barazushi your mother made was almost the same as your grandmother's one but something was different. That is the fragrance of your grandmother's house that have been kept in your mind. You remember the fragrance of the sushi right after it was served in front of you as well as the sounds and fragrances when she made Barazushi in her kitchen, such as her footsteps, voices, and vinegar, and her smiles. The point is that the integration of three senses: sight, hearing, and smell remains in your mind but taste hardly does. Among these three senses, smell is the most important. You will instantly sense the fragrances wafting from the house, kitchen, and vinegar-marinated rice. These fragrances will be a key to recall your memories of the sushi.Fragrances are often connected with seasons too. Don't you feel more like autumn when you smell sweet olive? You can feel seasons according to the fragrance, such as the leaf of sakura mochi (sweet sticky rice wrapped with a cherry blossom leaf), broth, matsutake mushroom, and when grilling mochi (sticky rice). Don't you think a specific fragrance will be linked to the season? Therefore, when I cook and serve dishes, I cherish to make my guests enjoy their fragrances such as when opening the lid of a bowl, and yozu (citrus fruit) skin and shansho pepper placed on the side of grilled food.Crunchy texture will make Kyuri Momi (salt-massaged cucumber) premium.The same applies to textures. For example, think of Kyuri Momi. Massage cucumber slices with salt, squeeze them, and add a hint of ginger juice. You will say, "Very yummy." after having crunchy Kyuri Mori. However, if it doesn't have a crunchy texture, you don't taste it such delicious, because a cucumber itself has a grassy and light flavor and almost zero calories. (Laugh)A combination of refreshing fragrance of the cucumber and the ginger and crunchy texture of the cucumber will make the dish delicious. Human beings are the only living creatures who can appreciate food like this and Japanese people are the only people who appreciate deliciousness of Kyuri Momi.Fragrances and textures are the first element of dishes and tableware and arrangements are the next. Adding various elements to them will bring you a surprise.Magical power of dishes that take you to go beyond time, space, and distance.The other day, I served grilled chestnut to a 70-year-old male guest. It was a very simple dish, just like a grilled chestnut was rolling over the plate. However, he was very pleased with its pleasant fragrance and round shape.He wasn't just impressed not on sweet flavor when he ate the chestnut. He nostalgically talked about the memory of his childhood, "Well, when I was a child, I often went hunting chestnuts and grilled them over a bonfire". "I usually did with my grandfather. It was so much fun. The chestnuts I hunted at that time was not big like this. They were small, stiff, and not sweet. However, they became delicious after grilling them over the bonfire." I thought a man of his age could be a grandfather too. He felt like he was a seven-year-old child again at that moment.Isn't it wonderful that you can travel back to decades ago with a single dish? Fresh, plump red snapper can remind you of your summer memories. You will recall that you had the red snapper at a seaside restaurant when your family visited the ocean in summer decades ago. Dishes have a special power that can easily take you to go beyond time, space, and distance.Everyone was surprised when they could recall forgotten memories. I believe that my creativity will be inspired by their surprises. A surprise derives from single dish. This surprise can also give me wings so that I can explore new ideas. Fragrances and textures of dishes are key elements to bring back those memories.In the next feature, Appreciate Washoku (Japanese cuisine) essence with your five senses Part 2, I'm going to talk about the space when having Washoku.■ Kikunoi (main restaurant)459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru,Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto075-561-0015http://kikunoi.jp/kikunoiweb/Honten/index
Owner & Chef of Kikunoi
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What exactly are "Kyoto taste" and "Kyoto cuisine"?
Tucked into the foothills of Mt. Higashi, surrounded by greenery, is the ryotei (high-end traditional Japanese restaurant) KIKUNOI. Since its opening in 1912, this restaurant has been beloved by many as a famous ryotei representative of Kyoto. Its third-generation proprietor, Yoshihiro Murata, constantly asks himself, "What IS Japanese cuisine?" and is continuously involved in various activities. Currently, he is serving as Chairman of the Japanese Culinary Academy (JCA) and has made "conveying Japanese cuisine accurately to the world" his life's work, pouring energy into the movement to have "Japanese cuisine"--that is, Japan's traditional food culture--designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage. We asked Mr. Murata to explain "What is Japanese cuisine?" and "the forefront of Japanese cuisine," and his responses will be presented in five installments.Four food cultures forming the foundation for Kyoto cuisineThe proprietors of KIKUNOI descend from a tea-server who accompanied Nene (Kitanomandokoro), the wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, from Osaka Castle to Kodai-ji Temple in Kyoto some 22 generations ago. This forebear was ordered to protect a well called Kikusui-no-i. From 3 generations before, the family operated a restaurant, which was named KIKUNOI, after the well.The signs outside ryotei that have continued over generations hardly ever include the words "Kyoto cuisine." The reason for this is that these restaurants each have their own history and traditions, and so I think that there is a strong sense of "providing our restaurant's own unique taste" that underlies this tendency for long-established ryotei to not identify their cuisine specifically as "Kyoto cuisine."What these restaurants have in common is that the restaurant and its taste were born in Kyoto. Today, I would like to talk about Kyoto's food culture, which has influenced the traditions and history of the taste developed by each restaurant.In Kyoto, there are four fundamental and traditional food cultures that support Kyoto food culture. The first of these is yusokuryori, which was born from the court culture of the nobility. In Classical Japan, provinces throughout the country sent officials known as kokushi to the capital, and these officials also brought their cooks with them. The modern-day equivalent of these cooks would be the chefs employed at embassies.That is to say, specialty produce and food ingredients from throughout the country were brought to Kyoto, and the Imperial Palace chefs made strenuous efforts to adjust and refine the preparation and use of these rare food ingredients and seasonings to produce cuisine that was to the tastes of court officials, and the cuisine they created is known as yusokuryori. The second fundamental and traditional food culture that supports Kyoto food culture is shojinryori, the food eaten by Zen Buddhist monks during training. Shojinryori strictly excludes all animal-derived foods as well as gokun, foods with pungent smells such as leeks and garlic. Finally, the third fundamental and traditional food culture that supports Kyoto food culture is chakaisekiryori (or kaisekiryori), which evolved from the practice of Buddhist monks in training of placing warmed stones inside their robes to alleviate hunger pangs. The concept was subsequently incorporated into the tea ceremony and perfected as chakaisekiryori by tea master Sen no Rikyu. Another influential food culture is obanzai, which townspeople (commoners) consumed on a daily basis.Each restaurant worked diligently to develop its own unique cuisineSince Kyoto culture centered on court culture, cooks were naturally also influenced by yusokuryori. Not only that, Kyoto has many temples--including many Zen Buddhist temples, of course--and so cooks were also influenced by shojinryori. In the world of the tea ceremony, since Kyoto was the location for the headquarters of the San-Senke (three major schools of the tea ceremony), chakaisekiryori naturally exerted influence as well. Furthermore, cooks were also influenced by the food consumed by townspeople (commoners), known as Kyo-no-obanzai. That is to say, cooks were influenced by four food cultures, and coupled with this, a unique Kyoto cuisine and taste developed. Consequently, I think that each restaurant perfected its own unique taste and sentiment in accordance with its unique history and traditions through the diligent efforts of its proprietors.For example, a restaurant that has traditionally been a tea house will serve cuisine that emphasizes wabi-sabi (sense of quiet simplicity and subdued refinement), with menus including words and phrases used in chakaiseki banquets, such as mukozuke (side-dish), hassun (appetizer), and nimonowan (bowl of boiled food). A restaurant with deep ties to a Zen temple will serve cuisine strongly influenced by shojinryori, and there are also many obanzai restaurants around the city.KIKUNOI aspires to "beautiful subdued refinement"Our restaurant's philosophy is "cuisine with beautiful subdued refinement." We often say " Be beautiful, not unattractive. Be subdued, not be wizened and weak." We have a saying that in simple terms means: "Be elegant and beautiful. Uncontrolled gorgeousness is unacceptable. Be subdued yet powerful. Being too wizened and weak is unacceptable." I think that the fact that our ancestor served Nene (the wife of Toyotomi Hideyoshi), who was from a samurai family, has also influenced this philosophy tremendously.So that I myself do not become "too wizened," I intend to formulate new proposals and make changes on a daily basis while pursuing "delicious taste" and "beauty." It is said that tradition is simply a succession of innovations, and that is exactly what I wish to undertake. A motto that I value highly is "Aroma + Texture + Surprise," and this is what I will talk about next.■ Kikunoi (main restaurant)459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru,Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto075-561-0015http://kikunoi.jp/kikunoiweb/Honten/index
Owner & Chef of Kikunoi