Tujiya – Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto

In Japan, Restaurants by Daryl & Mindi Hirsch5 Comments

Kyoto is the perfect city to experience a traditional Kaiseki dinner with numerous small plates of fresh food, mostly fish.

We felt like characters in a Martin Scorsese movie (think “After Hours”) as our taxi whisked us from our Kyoto hotel to the restaurant where our kaiseki dinner allegedly awaited.  We say allegedly because we didn’t know the name, address or phone number of the restaurant.  All we knew is that our innkeeper had made the reservation based on our explicit instructions for a traditional, non-touristy kaiseki restaurant that wouldn’t break the bank.  He didn’t speak much English, and the taxi driver spoke even less, so we half thought that we might end up at McDonald’s.

This is how we ended up spending a delightful evening at Tujiya.

Kaiseki meals are similar to omekase meals in that both are multi course affairs, but kaiseki distinguishes itself with its strict traditional structure, points of color and emphasis on seasonality.  Since Kyoto is the epicenter for the kaiseki way of dining, this type of meal was integral to our culinary journey.

Upon arriving at Tujiya’s generic door, we removed our shoes (as one does in any traditional Japanese interior) and entered a charming yet simple room with a counter for ten diners. Our fellow diners included a recently married couple, an elderly man and two hipsters on a date. We were the only non-locals, and we were warmly greeted with the international language of nods and smiles.

Kaiseki Dinner – Plate by Plate

We started our kaiseki dinner by ordering beer since we were thirsty. The beer was served draught style and went down easily.

Cheers! Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Cheers!

There were no food menus, and each course was served on a small, unique plate.

The first course was sea bream and seasonal vegetables served in a beautiful bowl

Sea Bream and Seasonal Vegetables Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Sea Bream and Seasonal Vegetables

Raw fish is a common element of kaiseki meals. This meal was no exception.  The sushi and sashimi courses were fresh and perfectly prepared.

Salmon Sushi with Ginger Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Salmon Nigiri with Ginger

Sea Bream and Bonita Tuna Served with Pickled Vegetables, Wasabi and Horseradish Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Sea Bream and Bonita Tuna Sashimi Served with Pickled Vegetables, Wasabi and Horseradish

After the small sushi courses, we cleansed our palates with savory soup.

Dashi Soup with Rice Cake and Mountain Vegetable Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Dashi Soup with Rice Cake and Mountain Vegetable

We had enjoyed the beer, but it was time to switch to Sake. We opted for a local Sake that was so lovely that we bought a similar bottle before we left Japan. First though, we each selected a Sake glass from the eclectic selection presented to us on a bamboo tray.

Sake Glass Selection Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Sake Glass Selection

Our next course came adorned with a cherry blossom branch.  Lovely, tasty and seasonal.

Fresh Bamboo Shoots, Yuzu and Baby Octopus with Miso and Greens, Served with a Cherry Blossom Branch Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Fresh Bamboo Shoots, Yuzu and Firefly Squid with Miso and Greens, Served with a Cherry Blossom Branch

Firefly Squid Topped with Miso Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Firefly Squid Topped with Miso

Yazu Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Yuzu

We had been wanting tempura all week. and we each finally got two perfectly prepared pieces – one shrimp and one asparagus spear, served with pink salt on the side.

Tempura Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Tempura

Pink Salt Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Pink Salt

Our next course was Pacific cod with greens in broth.

Pacific Cod with Greens in a Broth Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Pacific Cod with Greens in Broth

The small, pretty plates kept coming.  The next course was sea eel rice served with pickled vegetables and miso soup.

Sea Eel Rice Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Sea Eel Rice

Pickled Vegetable Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Pickled Vegetable

Miso Soup Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Miso Soup

We were beyond full, but somehow we found room for the ninth and final course of the meal.  The dessert course was orange blossom ice cream served with a rice cake, fruit gelee and a strawberry.  The light dessert went well with green tea.

Orange Blossom Ice Cream over a Rice Cake, Fruit Gelee and a Strawberry Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Orange Blossom Ice Cream over a Rice Cake, Fruit Gelee and a Strawberry

If nine perfect courses weren’t enough, we woke up to neatly wrapped leftovers the next morning.

Leftovers - Sea Eel Rice in a Banana Leaf Kaiseki Dinner Kyoto

Leftovers – Sea Eel Rice in a Banana Leaf

Although our evening ended up being less dramatic than the one in “After Hours”, we almost finished the kaiseki dinner without knowing where in the heck we had eaten. Somehow, without speaking the same language, we used phonetics to finally figure out the name of the restaurant.  Tujiya. Hopefully our spelling is as good as the food.


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Comments

  1. The Japanese food aesthetic is unparalled! This brings back memories of when were in Japan and I recall that when we returned to the U.S. no Japanese restaurant in our town could match up to what we had tasted in Tokyo and Kyoto! Love your photos!

  2. One should never read your posts on an empty stomach 😉 The dessert looks new to me – do you remember what it is called?

    1. Author

      Thanks! The dessert was Orange Blossom Ice Cream over a Rice Cake, Fruit Gelee and a Strawberry.

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