Kuidaore, a Journey for Food in Japan (Part 2 – Hakone Edition)

I debated on whether or not to put Hakone, Kyoto, and Osaka together for these food posts or separate them. Ultimately, I decided while we are only going to be in Hakone one day, one of our most “uniquely Japanese” meals will take place there and deserves its own post. What meal is that, you ask?

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KAISEKI DINNER

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TRADITIONAL JAPANESE BREAKFAST

How could we not be pumped for this? This is half the reason we decided to splurge and book a ryokan instead of another AirBnB while in Hakone. The other half is hot springs and futons on tatami mats.

Kaiseki dinners refer to a traditional multi-course Japanese meal. Think haute cuisine if you want a Western equivalent. Taste, texture, appearance/colors, and freshness are all carefully considered. Most kaiseki dinners are inspired by the seasons and take ingredients at their peak freshness to create a one of a kind experience. Art meets food (meets my stomach).

The number of courses varies, but here are some common features and it is *usually* eaten in this progression:

  • Sakizuke/ Zensai (Appetizers)
  • Suimono (1st Soup Course)
  • Hassun (Seasonal Platter)
  • Mukozuke/ Otsukuri (Sashimi Plate)
  • Takiawase (Vegetable Course)
  • Futamono/ Wanmono (2nd Soup Course)
  • Yakimono/ Agemono (Seasonal Fish Course)
  • Nimono (Simmered/Boiled Course)
  • Mushimono (Steamed Course)
  • Shiizakana – No real equivalent and hard to explain…A strongly flavored dish that does well with sake pairings
  • Suzakana/ Nakachoko (Acidic Palette Cleansers)
  • Gohan/Tome-wan (Rice Dish Course)
  • Ko no Mono (Pickled Course)
  • Mizumono/ Mizugashi (Dessert)

Traditional Japanese breakfast is a lighter fare usually made up of rice, fish, miso soup, pickled vegetables, and egg. I will be pumped to eat this after we likely live off of convenience store (kombini) and family diner breakfasts our first week in Japan.

Edit: Additionally, I did forget one other place I am very excited to eat at, but it is more a snack location than a full meal which is why I forgot it before. Jay and I have plans to do some hiking on this trip while we are in Hakone and Kyoto. In Hakone, the plan is to hike along what is left of Tokaido Road. An area of Hakone has some of the best preserved portions of road still.

Some of you may be familiar with the name “Tokaido” from a board game that shares the same name. The object of that game is to go on a trip through Japan and eat the best food, make the most friends, buy the best o-miyage (souvenirs), and see the best sites. To do so, you travel along the Tokaido Road.

The road played an important role during the Edo time period (1600-1868). I actually haven’t been able to find record of when it was actually “built”, but people were probably following along its path since before even Edo. It connected Kyoto to Tokyo, and took about 12 days on average from start to finish. It was 319 miles long. I say ‘was’ because many parts of the route have merged with modern roads, while other areas are more disconnected now.

Jay and I only plan to hike a small portion about 5-6 miles in length, which should take us about…2 or so hours.

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‘WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH FOOD?!’ I hear all of you crying out in confusion; however, I hope you enjoyed the journey with me to explain the next location I want to eat at. It needed the background.

Along this route, is an old historic teahouse that has been serving guests since way back. Amazake Chaya has been in continuous operation for over 400 years, serving drinks and mochi that entire time. The menu came about in an effort to serve guests something invigorating as they tackled the journey before them.

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Amazake is a drink made ​​from fermented rice in the sake family. It’s also traditionally drunk during New Year’s in Japan, as a lot of shrines sell it. I’m so excited to eat such a simple yet traditional snack in such a historical location. The roof is thatched and the floor packed earth. Customers sit at tables that are polished cross-sections of thick cedars instead of modern tables. Just a lovely memory made on a piece of history.

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