— WE DON’T RECOMMEND STAYING AT HATANAKA, IT IS OVERPRICED AND THE SERVICE IS BAD. THIS ARTICLE IS TO INTRODUCE HAMO CUISINE, NOT TO RECOMMEND HATANAKA RYOKAN. —
Kyoto Ryokan: Kyoto Summer Hamo Cuisine at Gion Hatanaka – part 2 (鱧料理)
Everything in a ryokan is natural; the walls are earthen stucco, the floor is woven grass tatami mats, doors and screens are plain wood and paper, even the ceiling is wood. Artwork and flower arrangements are all seasonal and usually evoke the coming season.
The views outside are either into a well manicured garden that is a summary of the natural world, or in the case in a rural area, with a view focused on mountains, rivers, lakes, the sea and so on.
In this natural setting, the kaiseki meal is enjoyed. The meal itself is a work of art and has numerous references to nature, the seasons and even poetry.
Hatanaka Guest Room – Kaiseki Served with View of Garden
Before feasting our eyes on Hatanaka’s hamo kaiseki lunch, here is a bit about Japanese inns.
Staying at a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan is, like much else in Japan, highly ritualized.
Upon arrival, guests are shown to their room and served tea and wagashi or senbei crackers usually with a small garden in view.
After relaxing a bit comes changing clothes. Guests change into more comfortable attire such as yukata, a light, cotton kimono, sometimes called a ‘summer kimono’. These are provided by the ryokan and usually have the ryokan‘s insignia or some local natural motif dyed on it.
Next comes a quick bath, or ofuro (お風呂). Ryokan are synonymous with not just eating, but also bathing and Japanese are bath aficionados.
Kaiseki Meal, Course After Course
Dinner is served in the room and is a procession of exquisite kaiseki courses that can easily last 2 hours!
After much eating and probably plenty of drink too, it is time for a long and relaxing soak in the bathtub.
An upscale ryokan will often have a private bath attached to each room. A large communal, segregated bath is usually the case with a more budget ryokan. Many ryokan offer both.
Bathtubs are often made of hinoki (檜) wood, the Japanese cedar gives off a wonderful fragrance in the hot, steamy air of the bathroom. (note: Gion Hatanaka’s baths are made of koyamaki (高野槙) wood, which is said to be better than hinoki.)
When families stay together at a ryokan, it is not uncommon for the whole family to bath together.
Soap and shampoo is NEVER used in the bathtub. All washing is done before entering the bath, therefore the water can be used by several people. In Japanese homes water is sometimes used for several days and can be reheated every night with the push of a button. Also, bathing at night, rather than in the morning means cleaner bedding.
Many ryokan are located in mountain villages in onsen, or hot spring districts. Mineral rich boiling hot water naturally bubbles up from the ground in many of these areas. Japanese absolutely love onsen but Kyoto has no onsen. The water of Kyoto is still very good for bathing, never-the-less.
In an onsen village visitors often go out and walk around the village in their ryokan issued yukata after dinner and bathing in wooden clogs called geta (下駄). The unmistakable click-clack of wooden geta on the lanes can often be heard while finishing dinner. However, Kyoto is a large city and this is not usually done when staying at a Kyoto ryokan.
Hatanaka’s Ofuro and ‘Beauty’ Water
Hatanaka has both private baths attached to each room and a large communal bath. The water comes from deep underground and is the same water as Yasaka Shrine’s, called bijin-no-yu, literally ‘beautiful woman water’.
There is even a ‘bijin’ shrine inside Yasaka Shrine. This shrine is a popular destination for the maiko of Gion.
Hamo Kaiseki Lunch
Hatanaka’s Hamo Ryori Kaiseki
Tempura, sashimi and sushi ready to be served.
Hatanaka’s Hamo Ryori Kaiseki Served
The tables in the room is a traditional Japanese lacquer table. The black streaks are not painted on, they are a layer exposed from beneath the red that has been revealed by laborious polishing.
Hamo Otsukuri (Sashimi)
Of course, otsukuri (sashimi) is raw fish and hamo must be blanched, yet it is still called otsukuri and thought of as, served and eaten like sashimi. Notice that it is served on a bed of crushed ice with shiso leaf physically separating it from the ice. The other leaves and sea vegetables can be added to the shoyu prior to dipping the hamo.
Hamo Otsukuri and Dipping Sauces
On the left is a sauce made of umeboshi, pickled plum and on the right is shoyu.
Hamo Suimono (Soup)
The red spot on top of the hamo is also umeboshi paste.
Hamo Kyoto Vegetable Tempura
The long, golden brown piece of tempura is the eel spine, deep frying it makes it crunchy. It is called hone senbei, literally ‘bone cracker’. The hamo tempura is very white and under the hone senbei and red pepper.
Hamozushi (Hamo Sushi)
There are a lot of visual puns in traditional Japanese culture, here the sushi is served on a maple leaf shaped plate with a green maple leaf as decoration. Often, the coming season is hinted at, and of course, ‘maple’ means autumn in Japan.
Hatanaka Guest Room – Interior
Hatanaka Guest Room – View of Garden
Hatanaka Guest Room – Kaiseki Served with View of Garden
Very sorry: We did a video interview with chief chef Yoshihiko Yano while I sampled the dishes but the sound level turned out to be too low to use. Hopefully we can interview him again in the future.
English website: yes
English speaking staff: yes
Location and Access: Located immediately south of Yasaka Shrine, about 3 minute walk from the intersection of Shijo Street and Higashi-oji Street in Gion.
Address: Kyoto-shi Higashiyama-ku Yasaka Jinja Minamimon Mae (京都市東山区祇園八坂神社南門前)
Gion Hatanaka website
Disclosure: Paku was once employed by Gion Hatanaka Ryokan.