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