Culinary traditions in Kinosaki: A journey through traditional Japanese Kaiseki dining

Kinosaki Town Proper
Kinosaki Town Proper Contributed photo

My sister and I went on a culinary adventure that explored the core of traditional Japanese cuisine while visiting Kinosaki Onsen Town in Toyooka, Japan. Our primary objective was to immerse ourselves in the distinct Japanese culinary traditions, rather than just visit the town's world-famous hot springs.

Kobe Beef, mushroom and vegetable.
Kobe Beef, mushroom and vegetable.Contributed photo
Our food served in tiny but very intricate dishes.
Our food served in tiny but very intricate dishes.Contributed photo
Sashimi and crab plate
Sashimi and crab plateContributed photo

Embracing tradition at a Ryokan

Kinosaki Onsen is a charming village in Toyooka, Japan, surrounded by peaceful landscapes. The train ride to Kyoto takes three hours. Kinosaki is well-known for its healing hot springs, but that's not all it has to offer. It takes visitors on a culinary journey through the age-old cuisine of Japan. During our stay at a traditional Ryokan, where every meal is an artistic experience, we will delve into the core of Kinosaki's culinary treasures.

Tsutaya was a charming and authentic Japanese inn where we checked into a traditional Ryokan. The Ryokan was kept in pristine condition by a firm that was devoted to maintaining its history, even though it was rather old. With their large rooms, living areas, and connected spaces, our accommodations exuded an air of timeless luxury.

Our courteous Nepalese butler and waiter, Soo-san, began our gastronomic adventure with the melodic call of dinner time. The Kaiseki Way, a Japanese eating tradition known for its well-planned dishes, was explained to us as we were led into the dining room.

Table Setting on the first morning. They add the soup, rice and seaweed when we sat down.
Table Setting on the first morning. They add the soup, rice and seaweed when we sat down.Contributed photo
Fish and the appetizer set
Fish and the appetizer setContributed photo

Each meal in a kaiseki set showcases the season's fresh ingredients and expert presentation; the entire set is a work of culinary art. Traditional Japanese dining is the kaiseki style, which is characterized by a carefully planned multi-course meal and is often thought of as the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. Kaiseki cuisine is characterized by a well-planned menu that showcases the best of what the season has to offer in terms of ingredients and preparation techniques. Typical courses include sakizuke (appetizer), nimono (simmered dishes), mukuzuke (sashimi), yakimo (grilled foods), hanmono (rice dishes), shokuji (dessert), and matcha tea (final course). We started our culinary adventure with three appetisers that were a flavor symphony: fresh seaweeds, pickled delights, and mouth-watering crab cakes.

The fresh plate was the show-stopper of the night; it featured a variety of sashimi caught in the abundant waters around Kinosaki. As a tribute to the coastal riches of the area, every bite of fish, caressed by the sea breeze, offered a symphony of tastes. In honor of Kinosaki's world-famous King Crabs, our chef's special dish — a delicious crab pudding presented on delicate shells — created an atmosphere fit for a royal banquet.

We started the evening off with a comforting bowl of king crab hot pot, a fragrant broth filled with juicy crustaceans, enoki mushrooms, and tofu. As we cherished every minute with appreciation, the entire eating experience cultivated a sense of friendship. As a finishing touch to our gastronomic journey, we were treated to a modest array of seasonal fruits for dessert.

This dish exemplified the understated beauty of Japanese cuisine. On our second night, we were invited to try our hand at grilling some Kobe beef — an ancient culinary art form — and were treated to a whole new culinary excursion. We followed Soo-san's precise instructions to grill the marbled meat to perfection, relishing every juicy bite.

Tustaya Ryokan – Picture from their online website.
Tustaya Ryokan – Picture from their online website. Contributed photo

Excellent service

Throughout our stay, Soo-san went above and above in her service, making sure we were comfortable with her careful attention to detail. His individualized attention took our stay to a whole new level, from making our futons ready to filling our room with tea and water.

A variety of delectable treats were served for breakfast, carrying on the Kaiseki tradition of waking up the senses. Meals were a gastronomic symphony, honoring Japan's storied culinary history, with starter plates embellished with culinary gems and main dishes featuring the day's finest seafood.

All things considered, the Kaiseki method of cooking is based on the Japanese concept of "shun," which emphasizes the usage of ingredients while they are at their freshest and serving them in a way that highlights their inherent flavor and aesthetic value. Kinosaki Onsen Town's culinary offerings showcased the depth and variety of Japanese cuisine. Not only did a traditional Ryokan serve delicious, high-quality meals, but it also gave guests a window into a fascinating and distinct Japanese culture.

One of the Public Onsens in Kinosaki.
One of the Public Onsens in Kinosaki.Contributed photo

What we learned from the experience

Our departure from Kinosaki was marked by the return of a newfound respect for the culinary arts of Japan as well as by the recollection of relaxing hot springs. Every dish at Ryokan’s dinner table conveys a story of tradition, workmanship, and genuine hospitality, as we learned on our culinary tour of the region.

Kinosaki Town Proper and Bridges.
Kinosaki Town Proper and Bridges.Contributed photo

If you are looking for a genuine Japanese experience, I highly suggest staying in a traditional Ryokan. The unmatched service and delectable cuisine guarantee an amazing journey — one that goes beyond borders and makes an everlasting impression on the soul — for a little cost. Kinosaki provides an enduring refuge where tradition flourishes and culinary gems are waiting to be discovered in a world where authenticity is scarce.

Kinosaki Town Proper at the Turn of the Century.
Kinosaki Town Proper at the Turn of the Century.Contributed photo


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