Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The Way of Tea teaches us about tea ceremony dishes and sake


The term “kaiseki cuisine” is used to refer to an elegant culinary style that uses local seafood and fresh seasonal vegetables, carefully arranged on beautiful plates to please the eye. Food is prepared in this style at some high-class Japanese restaurants and you can try it if you are prepared to spend a certain amount of money.


But this term originally came from tea ceremony. However, the original kaiseki cuisine was not so impressive as it is today. In its original sense, it referred to a very small dish of food. Tea ceremony avoids extravagance, so naturally the original kaiseki cuisine was very simple.


Tea ceremony combines kaiseki cuisine with sake (Japanese rice liquor). We will now discuss kaiseki cuisine and sake as used in tea ceremony.




  Eating kaiseki cuisine in preparation for drinking koicha
Japanese people usually drink a free-flowing, liquid form of matcha because is easier to drink. This tea is called usucha (light matcha tea). In usucha, you can taste a certain amount of bitterness and sweetness.


However, in tea ceremony, what you drink at the end is koicha, a thicker form of the tea made with more matcha powder and less water. Whereas usucha is quite liquid, koicha has a thick consistency like pulp, so that it doesn’t really seem like what you would normally call a “drink.”


When you drink such a thick tea, the appetite is greatly stimulated. So some light food is eaten in advance, in order to moderate the stimulating effect.


Food served for this purpose is called kaiseki cuisine. In its most basic form, it consists of a bowl of steamed white rice and two side dishes. Sometimes, a dish of stewed food is also served. As mentioned above, kaiseki cuisine is really just simple home-style cooking.


In practice, however, a large number of dishes are typically served, so that one ends up with a full stomach. In tea ceremony, the fundamental aim is to please the guest, but this principle has been carried too far, so that nowadays kaiseki cuisine has come to refer to a rather extravagant type of meal.


Drinking the thick koicha is meant to be the main point in tea ceremony, but many people focus on the food. As a result, when the time comes, they often feel that they don't need to drink the tea. Therefore, it's important to keep in mind the original meaning of kaiseki cuisine, and consider how best to serve the food.


  Sake is served with kaiseki cuisine at a tea ceremony
A tea ceremony proceeds in a quiet manner. By excluding the extravagant, it creates a unique way to see the world. As described above, kaiseki dishes were originally very modest.


It might come as a surprise, but sake is served with kaiseki cuisine. People drink sake because it goes well with many kaiseki dishes such as white-fleshed fish.


Of course, this does not mean the tea ceremony is simply a party. There are some rules regarding things such as the order in which the dishes are eaten, specifying that one begins with the rice, for example. Nevertheless, the tea-ceremony room is indeed a place where people eat kaiseki dishes, drink sake, and have a pleasant conversation.


The dense flavor of the koicha can be better appreciated after consuming kaiseki dishes and sake in this way. On an empty stomach, the tea would be overly stimulating, but once the stomach is prepared, its depth of flavor can be enjoyed.


Everything about the tea ceremony is calculated to make things go smoothly. For example, the serving of kaiseki dishes and sake, as we have seen, is done in order to enhance the appreciation of the flavor of the koicha. Thus, the Way of Tea embodies the wisdom of the people of past generations.


Kaiseki cuisine and sake are important elements for enlivening a tea-ceremony party. The people of ancient times were aware of the value of food and alcohol in facilitating communication.

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