Kitcho, a restaurant representing the pinnacle of Japanese kaiseki cuisine, is a name familiar to any Japanese food connoisseur. Teiichi Yuki, the restaurant’s founder, is one of the pioneers in the establishment of modern Japanese cuisine.
We asked Toshiji Yuki, the president of Kitcho Tokyo and his wife Hiroko, the restaurant hostess for guidance on the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine and how to enjoy it for foreigners visiting and living in Japan.
In subsequent segments, the restaurant’s head chef will review the concept of each season’s menu. But for now we will begin with the first step: what is Japanese cuisine?
The Essentials of Kaiseki
Japan fondly cherishes the four seasons of the year in its culture and culinary arts. It is a country that goes so far as to publish books exclusively on phrases that accompany the seasonal changes.
Understandably, the most important element in Japanese cuisine is how to best serve the seasonal ingredients.
Japanese cuisine relies on the simplest forms of seasonings:
- Dashi (soup stock) made from konbu (kelp) or katsuo (bonito)
- Soy sauce
- Japanese sake
- Soft water, which is ideally suited to cooking
It is essential that the natural, raw flavors of the ingredients are enjoyed to the fullest.
The dishes prepared with these basic seasonings allow one to experience umami (savory taste), a term that has become a staple in representing the taste of Japanese food.
There is a phrase called wan-sashi. It is a gastronomic jargon that refers to owan (soup bowl) and sashimi. It means that the bowls used in a restaurant for soups or simmered dishes reveal the restaurant’s seasoning skills, and the sashimi served tells us the quality of the shop’s ingredients.
New Menus Showcase the Seasons and the Times
Kitcho has been put through the mill by connoisseur customers with sophisticated palates. At the same time, it continues to tackle new menus in keeping with modern times.
Following the meteorological calendar, Kitcho helps its customers enjoy the four seasons in many ways. Among its methods is the seemingly magical creation of meals that cool one down in the heat of summer and warm the body in the bitter cold of winter.
Food ingredients are not the only ones synchronized with the seasons. The colors, patterns, and shapes of tableware made from Japanese lacquer and ceramic also allow one to bask in the seasons. The Japanese cuisine becomes a continuous visual pleasure and extraordinary dining experience as the tableware’s scenery changes — one dish at a time — from the start of the meal, when the first dishes are plated, to the end of the last course.
Enjoying a meal while enveloped in Japanese culture and basking in the season of the moment is what the restaurateur and hostess wish for their customers. The flower arrangements in all parts of the premises will most definitely be seasonal. Don’t forget to take notice of the tokonoma or alcove if you are so fortunate as to dine in a Japanese tatami room. If you see a hanging scroll, please ask the staff what the characters mean.
Exploring Kitcho and Kaiseki Into the Future
Indisputably acknowledged as the model of Japanese modern haute cuisine, Kitcho provides a generous and extremely savory dining experience. It also accommodates special requests from customers with allergies, food restrictions, or other preference as much as possible.
The restaurant group was established based on a mix of Kyoto and Osaka food traditions during Kitcho’s founding period. Tokyo Kitcho, which opened in 1961, prepares their dishes in line with the culinary fundamentals of Kitcho’s origins, adjusting seasonings to their Tokyo customers’ specific tastes.
Future articles in this series will chronologically report on Kitcho’s seasonal menus. The series will develop into a “Kitcho Japanese cuisine calendar” providing informative descriptions of seasonal ingredients and dishes that readers can refer to in the years to follow.
The year 2020 will mark the Kitcho group’s 90th anniversary since its founding. JAPAN Forward would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation for the valuable time and professional expertise Kitcho is sharing with us.
We would also like to encourage our readers to explore Kitcho’s cuisine and find other ways to further take delight in the world of Japanese cuisine.
Author: Yukihiro Watanabe