When you talk about the fine dining scene in Asia, Japan normally comes up at the top. In Japan, the kaiseki ryori is much celebrated by many foreigners and Japanese locals alike. The meal itself has its historical roots from both the royal and the commoner’s food culture.
Separated to two distinct styles – the Kanto and Kansai – Kansai Kaiseki features mild and subtle flavours. It is often regarded as the most traditional way of Kaiseki ryori. Kikunoi in Kyoto, is one such example, renowned for its Kansai-styled preparation.
Seasonal products often find their way into Kaiseki. At Kikunoi, the menu is changed monthly. In June when I visited, it was the “month of water” (水無月), so the typical summer seasonal items found in almost every Japanese restaurant can be found in the menu. This includes the Hamo (pike conger), Ayu (Sweet fish), Ume (plums) and the duck.
Kikunoi seeks out the traditional for inspiration. Their Anago Hirosu (sea eel tofu balls) is a fried tofu dish found in Kyoto. Hirosu, which is more widely known as gan modoki （雁擬き）, or Ganmo in short, is made with tofu, yam, carrots, the cloud ear mushroom and ginko nuts. Interestingly, the origins delicacy is said to be from the Portuguese dessert Filhós. To raise it to the next level, Chef Yoshihiro used tofu, yam, yuba, cream, sesame seeds, carrots, cloud ear mushrooms, lily bulbs and eel to create his version of a refined hirosu.
Hamo is yet another traditional summer dish. Often you can find it served with ume (plums). Hamo requires excellent knife skills. To rid the countless bones in the pike eel. the chef has to slice the eel 20 to 26 times per inch, without separating the meat. A special knife called the hamokiri bocho (鱧切包丁) is used for this purpose. Why the Hamo fish you may ask – that’s because it’s a fish that could survive the long journey from the Osaka Bay in the olden times.
Duck is also an important ingredient in Kyoto’s summer cuisine. Chef Yoshihiro first drains the blood from the duck to prevent it from contaminating the taste of the duck meat. It’s served with taro and mustard.
On top of that, the soft shell turtle (スッポン) – also a delicacy believed to be served in the palaces of both China and Japan – can be found here, though in the form of a jelly obtained by chilling the soup. It is served with shrimps, cucumber and ginger.
Address: 459 Shimokawara-cho, Yasakatoriimae-sagaru, Shimokawara-dori, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto (京都市東山区下河原通八坂鳥居前下る下河原町459)
Visited on: 14 June 2014
Hours: Lunch – 12pm to 2pm; Dinner 5pm to 8pm
Chef: Yoshihiro Murata