There were two reasons I wanted to stay at a ryokan, or Japanese inn. One, I wanted to experience a Japanese guesthouse furnished with traditional furniture and decor. Two, I wanted to have kaiseki, or Japanese haute cuisine. I loved the idea that the best of Japanese cuisine would be brought to me, without any effort on my part. (“Awesome Japanese food for dummies!”) It would be stuff I would probably never order on my own, and I would try everything, no matter how scary or weird it looked. A real culinary adventure!
As I wrote previously, I had a great stay at Sakoya in Yoshino. When I checked in, the very helpful concierge asked what time, between 6 and 7pm, I would like to have my dinner. I then went on a nice walk around Yoshino, came back to Sakoya for the first of many soaks at the hot spring, and got dressed for dinner in the comfy yukata that was provided.
When I got to the dining room at the appointed hour, most of my dinner was already laid out in the most beautiful arrangement. I was slightly overwhelmed with gratitude that I had the priviledge of enjoying such a wonderful meal, and also just a little sad that no one was there to share it with me.
I ordered a very large beer (the only size that they served — honestly!), and started in on my meal.
There were 12 components of my meal! Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Assorted platter: This dish was so beautiful, and it was hard to figure out what I was supposed to eat and what was just for decoration. The thing that looks like a sea urchin/tiny bird’s nest is actually fried potato (?) with hazelnut center. I overcame my initial hesitation about it, took a deep breath, and took a bite. It turned out to be the best part of the whole meal! There was also egg and lightly fried okra. I think the shrimp was mostly for decoration, the white ball turned out to be butter, and I’m not sure I ate that tiny slice of brown and white thing in the back.
2. Raw plate: shrimp, chicken, and fish. I suppressed all that I’ve been told about salmonella and ate the raw chicken. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either. I don’t think I would eat it again. Fish and shrimp were good though.
3. Vinegar salad with noodles, cucumber, radish, and fish. Refreshing and bright.
4. Assorted veggies: tofu molded into a leaf, taro, eggplant, snow peas, tofu skin, tofu roll. Nice to finally get some simple vegetables after lots of meat and carb-heavy meals.
5. Tofu custard. Sorta tasteless.
6. Tempura: okra, taro, eggplant, sweet potato, mushrooms. Who doesn’t love tempura? The weird thing is that they didn’t give me any tempura sauce (light ponzu?)… but it was still darn good.
7. Milk gratin aka “pot o’ cheese.” Since I didn’t have any lactaid with me, I chose to only take one bite. Because it was so milky, it wasn’t really my thing.
8. Grill: chicken coated with black pepper, green and red bell peppers, corn, and mushroom. This was a fun DIY thing to keep myself entertained.
9. Grilled local river fish, served with pickles and pickled asparagus. I tried to eat this whole, but wimped out when it came to eating the head.
10. It wouldn’t be a complete meal without perfectly cooked rice, soup with tiny mushrooms, and pickles.
11. Dessert was sliced Asian pear with matcha (green tea powder) covered jelly. A nice and light end to a tasty meal!
12. The apéritif was a delicate plum wine.
It was definitely one of the most memorable meals of my life. After dinner, I took another dip in the hot spring. Full, warm, and relaxed, I headed to bed and dreamt of beautiful and tasty foods.