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Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto

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

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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.

Cheers! Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Cheers!

Kaiseki meals are similar to omakase 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.

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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Salmon Nigiri with Ginger
Sea Bream and Bonita Tuna at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Sake Glass Selection

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

Firefly Squid at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Fresh Bamboo Shoots, Yuzu and Firefly Squid with Miso and Greens, served with a Cherry Blossom Branch
Firefly Squid Topped with Miso at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Firefly Squid Topped with Miso
Yuzu at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Tempura
Pink Salt at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Pink Salt

Our next course was Pacific cod with greens in broth.

Pacific Cod at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Sea Eel Rice
Pickled Vegetable at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
Pickled Vegetables
Miso Soup at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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 at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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.

Sea Eel Rice in a Banana Leaf at our Kaiseki Dinner in Kyoto Japan
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. Just don’t ask us to find this restaurant again.

Research Kyoto Hotels

Click here to research rates for hotels in Kyoto. Or, if you want access to a kitchen, click here to find an Airbnb apartment.

Hungry for More?
Check out our article about Kyoto’s Nishiki Market.

About the Authors
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

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Anastasia

Thursday 22nd of December 2016

One should never read your posts on an empty stomach ;) The dessert looks new to me - do you remember what it is called?

Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

Thursday 22nd of December 2016

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

discerningtravelers

Thursday 16th of May 2013

This experience looks amazing! Must put it on our list for when we visit Japan Best, The Discerning Travelers.

The Rider

Thursday 16th of May 2013

Thanks for the follow- you look like my kind of friends, so back at you!

nstecker

Wednesday 15th of May 2013

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!