Amazing Tastes from Stunning Waters of Hokkaido and Kyoto
Japanese culinary secrets in a kaiseki dinner
Waters gift them artistic form and nutrients. The sun preserves them. Mortals forever benefit.
The most esteemed chefs would dip a piece of kuragakoi kombu, the cellar-aged kelp from Hokkaido, into simmering water only once. It gives the most flavor to the best dashi base of the day. Once. And set it aside for something else. Born is the famed first broth, a nutrient-dense catalyst and a natural flavor enhancer. The humble kombu anchors kokumi, the ultimate taste sensation. I’m not alone in believing if we fulfill other senses, there is less need for fatty mouthfuls. The voyage begins.
Senses and Seasons — Anticipating the Diner’s Needs
Speaking of the senses. Everything about the setting appeals to the diners’ senses: Respect, comfort, trust, elegance, and elation. By now, my husband and I are pretty smitten, fortified with a petite bite and sipping warm Japanese roasted green tea, perfectly brewed. The crystal tree conjures a luxurious winter look, approving of the silk scarf a moment ago hugging my cheeks.
There’s sake, then there’s the new generation tosatsuru sake made from deep ocean water. Chef Maeda Hironori transforms this into jelly to complement the warm, succulent blue lobster (1 in 2 million lobsters is blue). A perfect introduction to oceanic flavors. Okra’s crisp grassy sweetness brings forth the seasons. Presentation: Red hollies and emerald pine in a double glazed glass bowl. The kisses of a few subtly scented winter cherry blossoms complete the festive symphony. Chef’s sensibility is commendable.
The 72 kō: Sophisticated seasonal segments refine a lunar year for agriculturalists.
Chef draws from the 72 microseasons. Fishermen, farmers, artisans, and sake professionals are all part of this 10-course Japanese kaiseki menu that fans out to 16 courses. It recalls the scenic Japanese countryside where I long to revisit one day.
Historic kaiseki (懷石料理) did not start with opulence, even though it has evolved into fine dining, and the lobster presentation suits a celebratory day. Legend has it that centuries ago Buddhist monks hugged a warm round stone close to the stomach to stave off hunger, hence the Buddhist spiritual term “懷石” (to embrace a stone). It’s all about fulfilling the senses, of the body or the mind.
Ichibandashi — The First Broth
I’ve been wondering about the black dots on Kyoto’s snow crabs, a winter wonder.
“The dots tell of the maturity, therefore the flavor, of the crab.” Our knowledgeable server enlightens us. These snow crab legs, packed with meat, are the star in the first dashi soup of the day — the concoction we’ve been waiting for.
Kombu peaks kokumi in sea treasures like bonito, the fermented and sundried skipjack tuna that gives the famed broth deep, complex, savory flavors of oceanic protein. Bonito aged over 2 years is rare. Chef got those aged 3–5 years. Those aged 10 years do not leave Japan. Kombu and bonito are more than condiments in tasting journeys. While kombu anchors, bonito lifts.
I cuddle the bowl as is appropriate, sip the delicate broth, and, with chopsticks, manage the sweet, tender, bulging crab meat bedded by silken tofu. Ahhhh…kokumi speaks of human evolution. Humans thought they knew all the flavors by early last century. Along came the discovery of umami (identified 1908/09, recognized 2002).
It took scientists 100 years to recognize that taste ID.
Now we’re not waiting for another 100 years to recognize this.
Dialogues with the Shores of Japan
Soy sauce is abundant in kokumi. The Japanese version is savory while slightly sweet, naturally brewed from roasted wheat. Fermentation over 6 months gives it the famous rounded aroma. A moderate dip enhances sashimi.
As if a watercolor painting delicately descends upon us, our eyes feast on the creation aptly named Dialogues with the Shores of Japan. Rolling waves of round white radish connect the crimson toro and the mauve yellowtail. Meticulous. Bare. Oh the freshness!
Every moisture molecule bursts on my palate.
The substantial toro pairing with the leaner yellowtail is like a dance of a triumphant couple.
It’s an art of the chef’s wrist, shoulders, muscle control, and the blade.
Roots of a herb curl in unison with the crystal-clear dish of premier soy sauce. Three miniature sculptures of condiments align: Freshly grated wasabi, ginger, and (drumroll please)…
See the little black cube?
That’s kombu after its dashi mission, with a hint of yuzu.
Toro, the Omega-3-rich fatty part of tuna, and other coveted sashimi-grade catches fly in from a lively morning auction at the Japanese fish market.
The famous new Toyosu replaced the historical Tsukiji market in Tokyo in 2018. This is where the most seasoned fish connoisseurs hide and show their hands. Flashlights ready, generations of concentration on their foreheads, they taste fresh-cut morsels, scrutinize textures, and lay down millions of dollars for prized catches.
Three important things define a Japanese chef: Sourcing ingredients, hygiene, and portion control. Portion control. Strictly regimented life for them is not for negotiation.
Like a gift box, our server presents a tray of vibrant amber-colored Hokkaido Bafun uni, the petite sea urchins’ roes of the highest quality, on crushed ice for our appreciation.
“If I told you the colloquial name of Bafun uni, you’d be offended,” our poised server says. Now that piques my curiosity. But he’s tight-lipped. Imagination, imagination…
“Wrap and bite” are the instructions. My fingertips feel the yield of the silky uni underneath gently crisp seaweed. Moist warm sushi rice, delicate ocean fragrance, buttery bafun uni, caviar that pops, a hint of edible flowers, all the layers in a satisfying mouthful.
Talk about wellness journeys. Ultimate flavors. Minimal calories. Brimming with nutrients. Fulfillment of the senses. We know we’re in the right place.
© PseuPending 2022