Aoi Matsuri Kyoto Kaiseki

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立
It is May and the most historic festival in all of Japan, the Aoi Matsuri is upon us. Iron Chef Defeater, Yoshimi Tanigawa of Kyoto’s famed Kichisen restaurant artfully uses the symbols and themes of the Aio Matsuri and seasonal leaves and ingredients for Kichisen’s May kaiseki menu.

Mr Tanigawa offered to let us do an article about his Kyoto kaiseki creations for the month of May which has both the Tango no Sekku (Boy’s Day/Festival) and Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival). Late spring verdant green, new leaves and seasonal sprouts, buds and fish abound. At Kichisen, flower arrangement and food meet in Mr Tanigawa’s natural and artistic culinary creations.

Sakizuke (Appetizer) with Seasonal Leaves and Iris
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立
(click photos to enlarge)

Japan’s most historic festival, the Aoi Matsuri is to please the deities of the Kamo Shrines (Kamigamo and Shimogamo) and to avert famine and epidemics. For 15 centuries, people in Kyoto have put on this festival on. Kichisen borders Shimogamo Shrine and utilizes the shrine’s aoi (hollyhock) leaf in it’s logo. See photos at the end of this article to see the distinctive hollyhock plant and tiny, delicate flowers. (More about the Aio Matsuri on OpenKyoto coming soon.)

These are the first 5 courses (7 dishes) of the 12 course ‘May’ kaiseki meal.

Sakizuke (Appetizer) with Seasonal Leaves and Iris
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立
The leaves: top two are aoi, then a whole iris and the bottoms leaves on the bottom layer are kashiwa oak leaves. Inside the kashiwa leaves are the appetizers.

The Oak Leaf Wrapped Appetizers
梅干しの天ぷら: Umeboshi Tempura (umeboshi is pickled plum)
賀茂茄子の田楽: Kamonasu Dengaku (Kamo Eggplant Miso Dengaku)
バイ貝と大根のうま煮: Baikai Daikon Umanin (Simmered Ivory Shell and Daikon)

Heian Chimaki and Uni and Yomogi (Mugwort) Tofu
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Heian Era Chimaki
平安粽: Chimaki is usually a rice or sweet dish that has been wrapped in the leaf of the ‘sasa’ bamboo plant. At Kichisen, they continue to make chimaki the way it was made when Kyoto was founded 1200 years ago.

Wanmono: Yoshino Hamo Eel (Soup)
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Hamo Eel
Hamo is synonymous with fresh fish in Kyoto as it was, historically the only fish from the sea that could be transported to Kyoto and still be alive when it arrived. Hamo is bony and requires a special ‘bone cutting’ technique in order to make it edible. This delicate soup is made with kuzu root (starch) from Yoshino in rural Nara prefecture. The green citrus is a very, very young yuzu.

The droplets of water on the lid are sprinkled on using a chasen, the whisk for making maccha in the tea ceremony.

Mukozuke: Tai, Ika, Kuruma Ebi Sashimi
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Awabi (Abalone) Sushi
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Soboku
Abalone season has just started in Japan. Traditionally, when fishermen collected them they would be tied up with straw. As Kichisen’s kaiseki retains a deep connection to the tea ceremony, this kind of natural simplicity is incorporated into the dishes. This is the kind of thing that makes Kichisen different from many other kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto.

Hassun: Various Fish Dishes
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Hassun: Various Fish Dishes
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Food Porn, the Kyoto Perspective
I asked Mr Tanigawa if I could photograph the other courses in this meal but he said that if you want to see them all you have to come to Kichisen for dinner. Interestingly, he said that if you show photos of everything, it cheapens it. Yes, that is a very ‘Kyoto’ approach — don’t show too much. (I am down on a lot of traditional Kyoto attitude, but I think I agree with his judgment on this point.)

Kichisen Restaurant

Kichisen Interior
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立

Kichisen Gate
Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) Kyoto Kaiseki at Kichisen 吉泉の五月の献立
The plants on either side of the stone steps are aoi hollyhock.

note: The photos above are the property of Kichisen and may not be republished without permission (as often happens with my photos).

Aoi

Aoi Hollyhock
Aoi Hollyhock 葵

Aoi Hollyhock Flowers
Aoi Hollyhock 葵
Notice the tiny flowers under the leaves. This variety of hollyhock reminds me of strawberry plants far more than the hollyhocks that I used to grow back in Minnesota!

15 Responses to “Aoi Matsuri Kyoto Kaiseki”

  1. Arun says:

    Such beautiful heart shaped leaves! Are they themselves actually edible?

  2. Peko Peko says:

    Hello Arun, Thanks for coming by KF again! I always appreciate your thoughtful questions. While the leaves are beautiful, they are not eaten. They are just for decoration.

  3. Meg says:

    That meal seriously looks too perfect to eat! So, how did it taste?
    Thank you for your wonderful blog– it’s almost a mini-vacation to Kyoto. Almost. :)

  4. CatherineSF says:

    Wow–gorgeous! What is the very lacy leaf on the second hassun?

  5. [...] culinary culture of Kyoto. The current post is about the Kyoto Kaiseki meal served in honor of the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) at Kichisen, one of Kyoto’s finest ryo-tei. The article showcases stunning photographs that really show [...]

  6. Risa says:

    Meg is right, this is almost like a min-vacation to Kyoto. We leave in a few weeks and I really appreciate the preview. I just recommended this post on the blog I added to Savory Japan over the weekend.

  7. [...] culinary culture of Kyoto. The current post is about the Kyoto Kaiseki meal served in honor of the Aoi Matsuri (Hollyhock Festival) at Kichisen, one of Kyoto’s finest ryo-tei. The article showcases stunning photographs that really show [...]

  8. Michal says:

    So beautiful!!
    What a master of food and site. The world credits the French as the masters of ood but how wrong they are!!!

  9. Wow the presentation is truly inspirational!

  10. Linda says:

    The last photo looks very much like ginger!

  11. Peko Peko says:

    Hello Meg, I didn’t actually get to eat this meal. I just had an opportunity to show some of the Kyoto kaiseki themes for May and the Aoi Festival. (The beautiful photos were not taken by me.) I have eaten several of the dishes though, for example the chimaki, sushi/sashimi and some of the preserved items. The chimaki was really wonderful, it is tai sushi. (KF article coming soon)

    Hello CatherineSF, Miwa knows the answer to your question, I will ask her to reply.

    Hello Risa, A mini-vacation to Kyoto? Wow! That is a successful blog post! Thanks for adding us to your links! I am looking forward to hearing about your visit to Kyoto.

    Hello Michal, Tanigawa-san loves the food of other countries and travels abroad often but has told me on a number of occasions that the culinary culture of Kyoto is the very best in the world. I think that comes from the connection to the tea ceremony that kaiseki has. That adds another level to it that just doesn’t exist in other countries I think (as far as I know). Chinese food includes a lot of artful cultural visual metaphor — reference to poems and paintings and so on. Sadly though, I think that a lot of China’s culture and tradition was lost to the Cultural Revolution.

    Hi Marc, Yes, Kichisen and Tanigawa-san cannot be topped!

    Hi Linda, Looks like ginger? The last photo, of the plants?

  12. Forager says:

    Wow. I am dumbstruck – it looks so very beautiful. Too good to eat! (But of course given the opportunity, I would).

  13. Sarah says:

    It was inspiring to look at these while teaching The Tale of Genji Aoi chapter this week back in Boston (after our year in Japan last year…). I hope it’s OK to show the images to 9 students – what a great way to see the leaves and the enduring interest in this festival 1000 year later.

    Ah, how we miss Kyoto food…

  14. Jeanne says:

    What’s in the hassun dishes? ^_^ Your photos are so beautiful.

  15. Peter Matsudaira says:

    The aoi I believe is wild ginger (futaba_aoi). Hollyhock is tachi-aoi so share
    same kanji for aoi. Futaba_aoi and Hollyhock are very different plants. Please
    compare futaba aoi pictures from Japanese web site:
    http://www.botanic.jp/plants-ha/futaoi.htm

Leave a Reply

ContactCopyright © Kyoto Foodie: Where and what to eat in Kyoto, All Rights Reserved.