The other day I was fortunate enough to be invited for a wonderful tempura kaiseki dinner by some new friends from San Francisco at one of Kyoto’s most famous ryokan inns: Yoshikawa Ryokan. While Yoshikawa Ryokan is a fine place to stay, it is perhaps more famous for its tempura cuisine. Many Kyotoites go there just for tempura dinner.
Now, I would be remiss if I did not tell you that I went with a slight bit of trepidation because I have heard from two different sets of foreign tourists that tempura dinner at Yoshikawa was not good. More about that below. We had a very good kaiseki dinner but I just want to show you two dishes; pickled mackerel sushi served on a completely psychedelic colored persimmon leaf and tempura kakiage on rice with tea poured over the top.
Kakiage Tempura at Yoshikawa
Kakiage is sliced vegetables and sometime seafood that is mixed together with tempura batter and deep fried. ‘Kaki’ means to mix or stir and ‘age’ means to fry in oil. With tempura, usually the items are battered and deep fried individually. Kakiage can be more oily than regular tempura because it has a lot more surface area and batter.
Yoshikawa’s kakiage tempura was so light and unoily that it was almost not tempura to me. I had a hard time making out what exactly was inside it because everything was sliced so finely inside. It was so light and delicate that it seemed more like quiche or dashi tamagoyaki than tempura to me. At Yoshikawa the kakiage is the last course of the kaiseki meal and it is offered three ways; there is donburi style on rice, something that I cannot recall at the moment and chazuke style on rice with hot tea poured on. Chazuke is a very prosaic home cooking type dish. At a restaurant and inn of such distinction I thought that it must be quite interesting so I order chazuke and was very impressed.
Kakiage tempura was introduced on KyotoFoodie way back when we started in this article about Tenshu in Gion and recently briefly mentioned on OpenKyoto in this article about 500 yen dinner at Marugame in Kyoto.
How to Eat O-chazuke
Here are some photos that show the process of eating chazuke, or more politely o-chazuke. Chazuke works like this; you start with rice and some flavoring on top, pour on hot tea, stir it up a bit and using your chopsticks to eat and/or slurp it.
To the right of the rice bowl is wasabi paste and there is a plate of tsukemono pickles and chirimen jako. The wasabi can be added to the chazuke if you like wasabi but the tsukemono is a side dish and doesn’t go on the top of the rice.
I have found that just o-chazuke for dinner is an excellent way to lose weight.
Dinner at Yoshikawa Ryokan: Tempura Kakiage O-chazuke 吉川旅館 天ぷらかき揚げ茶漬け
Yoshikawa Ryokan Inn
Yoshikawa Ryokan Inn and Tempura Yoshikawa Restaurant are at the same location on Tominokijo Street just south of Oike Street. You can go to Yoshikawa for tempura dinner only, or you can stay too. If you go just for dinner, you might ask for a private room.
Misunderstanding, Exaggeration and Lies and the ‘Bucket of Oil for Dinner’ Myth Story
I am a bit embarrassed to tell you about this. The first time I heard about dinner at Yoshikawa from the foreign travelers I distinctly recall hearing that the tempura was served in a bowl of oil. I imagined French Onion Soup in which the bread was the tempura and the soup was the oil. Come on, is there any food, anything, anywhere on planet Earth served in a bowl of oil? No one would eats anything like that, least of all Japanese.
I cannot count the number of times that I have heard fascinating (incredulous) stories from foreigners about all sorts bizarre things in Japan. There are certain things that Japanese just don’t do. In fact there are a lot of things that Japanese just don’t do. Yet, you often meet these fresh off the boat Western foreigners going on and on about how this or that Japanese was doing this weird thing and you are thinking to yourself, Self, in more than 10 years here I have never seen a Japanese do anything like that!
Some of it is just misunderstanding, usually due to language. Still, not excusable. But, the majority is, alas, just lies and exaggeration. When traveling with or hanging out with Japanese abroad I can’t recall once ever experiencing or hearing anything like that. Strange.
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Map to Yoshikawa Ryokan
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