Osechi: What is Kyo-ryori (Kyoto Cuisine)?

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series O-shogatsu Ryori

Osechi: What is Kyo-ryori (Kyoto Cuisine)?

What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉
In Kyoto, it is said that the three most sophisticated cuisines in the world are French, Chinese and Japanese; and among these three, Kyoto Cuisine, or Kyo-ryori is the pinnacle of sophistication, visual beauty and subtlety of taste. Kyo-ryori is not just to eat, it is to be experienced by all the senses. It includes aspects of ikebana (flower arrangement) and sado (tea ceremony). Dishes are created with an emphasis on natural beauty and the seasons. Sophistication is achieved by subtlety, restraint and simplicity, not decoration.

This article is a part of our Japanese New Year’s Osechi Cuisine series done in cooperation with Kichisen restaurant in Kyoto. Here we introduce the main aspects of Kyoto Cuisine with photos of Kichisen’s Kyoto Kaiseki Cuisine.

Kyoto: His Highness the Emperor’s Kitchen

Kyoto has a history of more than 1,200 years and was the capital until the beginning of the modern era. Artisans throughout the country sought to refine their skills to come to Kyoto to serve the Emperor. Chefs were no exception. It is often said that Kyoto was the emperor’s kitchen for more than 700 years.

What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉

There are four types of Kyo-ryori:

Yusoku Ryori (有職料理): Yusoku Cuisine is ‘court food’ and was eaten by the Emperor and other high ranking nobles and aristocrats.
Kaiseki Ryori (懐石料理):
Kaiseki Cuisine is ‘tea food’, originally Chakaiseki and developed with the tea ceremony. Small portions of food were served to a guest to accompany bitter tea. Kaiseki’s soul comes from the tea ceremony. Chakaiseki is one rice dish, one soup dish and three side dishes. Modern Kaiseki usually includes many more dishes.
Shojin Ryori (精進料理):
Shojin Cuisine is ‘temple food’, vegetarian food eaten by priests and monks.
Obanzai (おばんざい):
Obanzai is ‘home food’, Kyoto style. Though casual cooking, Kyoto vegetables are a central element and seasonal ingredients are presented in a refined, yet natural way.

Tenets of Kyoto Cuisine
・Bring the natural taste of seasonal ingredients ‘to life’.
・Don’t overcook, avoid using excessive heat.
・Present the food in the context of the season.

・In the winter, serve full-bodied food that steams, in the summer serve light food on a bed of shaved ice. In the winter use more katsuo-bushi (shaved fish) in dashi soup stock, in summer use more kombu (kelp).

・Impart the natural fragrance of the season by cooking fish in a fresh, green sakura (cherry) leaf in the spring and on a fallen, brown magnolia leaf in the autumn.

・Use the natural salt content of kombu to flavor dishes rather than straight salt.

・Bamboo shoots are naturally hard, serve them al dente.

image credit: All images in this article are used with permission of Kichisen.

New Year’s Kyoto Kaiseki
What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉

Taste of field, taste of wind,
Seasonal fish and vegetable are full of life.
The wisdom of the skillful cooks treats them with care
Pursuing the most wonderful tastes in the season.
You can well communicate with Nature through these dishes
And enjoy the pleasant moment to your heart’s content.

Spring Kyoto Kaiseki
What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉

Sense of Beauty, Sense of Season
Nature brings us the inevitable and perfect encounter of
Seasonal specialties, tableware and occasion:
A particular encounter never to recur again.
This harmonious sense of beauty of each season is
Our best entertainment.

Summer Kyoto Kaiseki
What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉

Autumn Kyoto Kaiseki
What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉

The most suitable tableware
Sunday clothes for the lovely gifts from Nature.
Not too gorgeous, not too elaborate, the ware should be.
Food is the first important, ware is the second.

Autumn Kyoto Kaiseki
What is Kyo-ryori? (Kyoto Cuisine) 京料理 京懐石 吉泉

Soft spring flowers, cool summer water
Elegant autumn leaves and winter garden covered with snow;
Delicate but fascinating changes of the season in Japan.
In this sophisticated and tranquil atmosphere
Authentic seasonal dishes can be enjoyed at their best.

The above images and poems come from Kyo-kaiseki Kichisen’s restaurant pamphlet, all are copyright and used here with permission.

6 Responses to “Osechi: What is Kyo-ryori (Kyoto Cuisine)?”

  1. Mora says:

    Gorgeous photos. I am so envious that you have access to such incredible food…from the simple to the highly sophisticated. The photos made me think of the meals prepared and served in Ogata Kenzan’s dishes. The next time you are at the Miho Museum in Shigaraki, be sure to check out the book of these photos in the gift shop. Not only is Kyoto and Japanese food exquisite by itself, but it is made more so when served in spectacular dishes.

  2. kat says:

    wow I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds…all so beautiful!

  3. Chris says:

    I had the impression that Chef Tanigawa is something of a leader in a movement to return kaiseki to this simpler style of presentation. I also thought he was one of the people reviving the term “kyo-ryori” as opposed to “kaiseki,” and that this move toward simplicity was part of this terminological shift. Have I got that wrong?

  4. PakuPaku says:

    Hello Chris, I am sorry that it took some time to answer to your question. You actually got it perfectly right. We asked Mr Tanigawa what is his thoughts towards two terms, Kaiseki and Kyo-ryori. He said that even though he uses term Kaiseki to his own restaurant, because his dishes has strong influence from dishes served at tea ceremony, he thinks the term still has too deep connection to tea ceremony, and sound very conservative. The term Kyo-ryori (literally Kyoto-cuisine), on the other hand, includes various aspect of Kyoto cuisines converted in to an art, and shows openness. He said he would prefer using Kyo-ryori than Kaiseki, and he wants Kyo-ryori to be recognized in the world.

  5. […] Osechi Series on KyotoFoodie: Osechi: What is Kyo-ryori (Kyoto Cuisine)? Osechi: Kyoto Kichisen Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa Osechi: What is Osechi Ryori? Osechi: Shopping […]

  6. If I may add a recommendation, had a wonderful KyoRyori meal at Hanasaki (Gion, though they have locations in Nishiki and Koudaiji as well). Just visit my stream or search Hanasaki Kyoto on Flickr if you want to see any shots.

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