About Kyoto cuisine
Kyoto cuisine is said to arise from the fusion of various cooking traditions, including imperial court cuisine (yūsoku-ryōri), samurai cuisine (honzen-ryōri), Buddhist temple cuisine (shōjin-ryōri), and tea ceremony cuisine (cha-kaiseki). The unbroken flow of elegance that characterizes the people and lifestyle of Kyoto, the ancient Buddhist discipline, and the heart of the tea ceremony, imbued with the sense of season and some contemporary playful spirit have all been integrated as “Kyoto cuisine.”
Among these strands, at Kichisen we focus especially on serving the authentic hospitality cuisine in the tradition of the “cha-kaiseki.” In Japanese, the word “gochisō” (feast) originally meant that the host had raced around on horseback to gather the ingredients for his guests’ meals, and thus expressed hospitality. At Kichisen, we follow this philosophy as we gather delicious seasonal ingredients from throughout Japan and offer them to our guests.
Progression of courses
There is a certain story, rhythm and subtle charm which pervades the progression of the courses in Kyoto cuisine. We begin with a “drink offering” called “sake-ikken,” meaning “a sacred sake offered to the gods,” in order to extend our hearty welcome and gratitude to our guests. Different from the appetite-enhancing “aperitif,” “sake,” which is considered to be most delicious beverage human-beings have ever created, is first offered to the gods, and then presented to our honored guests. After the “sake-ikken” and the appetizer called “sakizuke,” the meal proper will ensue. The first dish to be served is a clear soup called “o-wan.” At Kichisen, we sprinkle drops of dew over the lid of the “o-wan” bowl, in order to add a cool and refreshing feeling. This expresses our dedicated spirit of hospitality, that our cuisine has been created just for this particular guest, never touched by anyone else. In partaking of the soup, please enjoy the smell of the season the moment you open the lid of the bowl. Pepper leaf buds in spring, green citron in summer, yellow citron in autumn and ginger in winter exude seasonal flavors. Please take a sip, and enjoy the distinct flavor of the dashi soup stock only available at Kichisen. Dashi made from kelp and bonito flakes is the most essential, and indeed fundamental element of Kyoto cuisine, and is therefore the most important responsibility of the chef. Remove the aromatic ingredients untouched from the bowl, put down the chopsticks, and enjoy another sip. With the flavor of the soup, a delicate sensitivity toward the seasons will permeate throughout your body. Alternately partaking of the morsels in the soup and drinking the broth will enable you to enjoy the soup to the fullest. This completes the first part of the meal.
Next comes the “mukōzuke,” a sashimi (raw fish) dish. Originally from tea ceremony cuisine, the sashimi was placed on the far side (“mukō”) of the rice and soup bowls, which led to this name being used for this dish. The “mukōzuke” dish is accompanied by seasonal condiments, such as mountain pepper, radish, flowering cucumber, oba perilla leaves, “bofu” or Java water dropwort (Japanese parsley), “matsuna,” or Japanese mustard spinach, “iwatake,” or rock tripe (edible lichen), “hasuimo,” or stem of taro, “hojiso,” or ear perilla leaves, Japanese ginger, squash (pumpkin), Malva nut, river weed, Malabar spinach (Malabar nightshades), plum pulp, Japanese red kintoki carrot, Japanese spikenard, kurokawatake mushroom (edible mushroom in the Thelephoraceae family), noble orchid (Cymbidium goeringii), bracken, red manganji chili pepper and smartweed (water pepper). Many of these ingredients also serve as Chinese medicines. Eating them together with sashimi will not only help digestion and absorption, but also enhance the succulent flavor and sweetness of the sashimi. As seasonings, soy sauce and chirisu (a citrus-based vinegar soy sauce mixed with grated radish and smashed leek) are available. If using soy sauce, only a pinch is necessary for sashimi. If using the chirisu, dip the sashimi well into the sauce, and top it with plenty of grated radish.
Then comes the “nakazara” (middle dish) often including sushi or a steamed dish. After the “nakazara,” the flow of dishes quickly builds toward the climax of the menu. Entertaining our guests as they enjoy their drinks, we then serve the “hassun,” a mixed platter of tastes from both the mountains and the sea. The next dish is a “nimono” (boiled) dish, followed by a “yakimono” (grilled) dish, which are basically considered as the main dishes. Afterword comes the “kuchi-naoshi” (palate refreshment), which serves as an interlude.
The final part of the meal consists of rice and pickled vegetables. Lastly, the meal concludes with fruit, sweets, and powdered green tea. Needless to say, we contrive to express the shifting of the four seasons, and through sensitive attention to detail concerning factors such as the beauty of appearance, aroma, and texture, we carefully maintain the delicate balance of the five flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and “umami” savory) and the five senses. While in comparison to Western cuisine you may find the seasoning quite light, please enjoy the subtle tastes of the ingredients and the depth of flavor. We should be happy if this Kyoto cuisine may, as it unfolds like the flow of an elegant poem, gladden your heart and invigorate your life.
* Courses under 22,000 yen do not include the “hassun.”* The lunch menu enables you to enjoy a course featuring the main dishes.
A thought from Kichisen
There is a Zen saying,
“Beyond the range of mountains, another range; recounting in full – the feel of the clouds on the mountains, the feel of the moon on the sea.”
This means “You and I, we are together at this single meeting. Without hiding our hearts, let us speak thoroughly of anything and everything.” Likewise through Kyoto cuisine, might not the cook and guest be able to establish a reciprocal relationship which enables the sensitivity of their hearts to reverberate in unison as they share a unique experience and its ensuing feelings of happiness, contentment and peace? We devote ourselves daily so that you may take away with you the most from this single meeting.
Please do not hesitate to ask the staff about the menu, the food, or anything that may be unclear.
* Please note that the contents of the menu will vary depending on the seasonality of ingredients.
Head of Kichisen
The above prices are subject to consumption tax, service charge, and table charge of 1000 yen per person.
(Baby sardines boiled in sweetened soy sauce and flavored with Japanese mountain pepper)