Mankametarō ~ Imperial Cuisine

Yūsoku imperial cuisine

Yūsoku imperial cuisine

Traditional Kyoto cuisine is divided into four categories: yūsoku, meals that were served to the imperial family and court nobles; kaiseki, which has its origins in tea ceremony; shojin, vegetarian cuisine originating in Buddhist temple kitchens; and obanzai, which started as street food. After the imperial court lost its power base to the martial rule of the shogunate, the art of yūsoku, imperial cuisine, gradually faded; however, one restaurant in Kyoto has kept this tradition alive for almost three hundred years: Mankametarō. As well as being the tenth-generation head of this Michelin two-star restaurant, Masakiyo Konishi 小西将清 is also the twentieth-generation master of the Ikama school of shikibōchō 式庖丁, a traditional culinary art form of displaying skill with knives by filleting a fish without touching it with the hands. An essential part of a yūsoku chef’s training was in the art of the knife.

Masakiyo Konishi performing the shikibōchō ceremony

Masakiyo Konishi performing the shikibōchō ceremony

These days, the Michelin two-star restaurant is run by the tenth-generation family head, Masakiyo Konishi 小西将清, but here is a translation of an interview with his father Shigeyoshi Konishi 小西重義, the ninth-generation head of the family, from September 2010.

I understand that the restaurant was established in 1722, is that right?
Yes, that’s right. Originally the family was established here in Nishijin as sake purveyors to the palace. This gradually changed and the business came to be known by its present name, Mankamerō, which catered for the imperial palace ceremonial court banquets. I’m now the ninth head of that family.

Today, what kind of meal is it that you are preparing?
This is a traditional banquet for September: it’s called the “Chrysanthemum Festival.” Since olden times, the Chrysanthemum Festival was a special annual event to pray for prosperity and longevity for oneself and one’s family members. Celebrated since the Heian era, this was an imperial court tradition, no doubt originating in China, in which sake was infused with chrysanthemum flowers and then drunk as a talisman for long life.

This meal looks so elegant and refined: what kind of food are you preparing?
To begin with, this is the appetiser: it is the first dish for which the guest will be using chopsticks, so it is called hatsu-hashi, “first chopsticks.” Today, the hatsu-hashi is sesame tofu with chysanthemum flowers. The next dish is called wanmono, which is a seasonal soup: in this case, it is eel with matsutake mushroom, which brings together an ingredient that is at its seasonal height, the eel, with an ingredient that is just beginning to come into season, the matsutake. This is followed by sashimi, served on a special raised platform that is unique to yūsoku cuisine, called a shimadai [see photo above]. Today the sashimi is tilefish which is known as kuji in Kyoto. As well as the kuji, there is sashimi of lobster, which is a symbol for eternal youth and long life. The centre of the arrangement is garnished with chrysanthemum flowers, which is suggestive of the flower-infused sake that was the Chinese tradition in times gone by.

Today you’re using chrysanthemums, but does this change in accordance with the season?
Yes, that’s right. For example, at New Year we use pine, for Setsubun in February we use plum blossoms, for Doll’s Festival in March it’s peach blossoms, and so on, in preparing for each seasonal banquet, which are known as sechi-e. Amongst them all though, I think the Chrysanthemum Festival is particularly gorgeous. In preparing yūsoku imperial cuisine, the food has to reflect the seasons: spring is gay and showy; in summer you need to feel coolness; in autumn there is a sense of abundance and richness; in winter you want to feel warmed. So I want to embody those feelings in the meals I prepare. Autumn is the season of ripening fruit and abundant harvests, so the meal should reflect this richness and extravagance.

Expressing the taste of the seasons is very typical of Kyoto cuisine isn’t it.
Indeed. When people come to Kyoto, an important part of their visit is getting that sense of the seasons. Of course, there is that seasonality anywhere in Japan, but it seems that the changing of the seasons are more acutely felt here in Kyoto: this changing of the seasons is expressed wherever you go in Kyoto. I think that developing a keen sensitivity to the seasons is really important.

Source: Wakasa Seikatsu


Takekage bento

Takekage bento

Mankamerō details:
Address: 387 Ebisucho, Inokuma-dori Demizu Agaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto
Lunch: 12,420円~
Takekage bento: 6,534円
Dinner: 37,260円~
Phone: 075-441-5020
Bookings essential


New Year Osechi

Hamatoku osechi

A kaiseki restaurant nearby to Myoshinji temple, in the western part of Kyoto, Hamatoku was established about a hundred years ago. The focus of their cuisine is seasonality and bringing beauty to all aspects of the preparation and serving of the meals. Their special Wajima lacquer dishes, made especially in Kanazawa, are inscribed with images from the Tale of Genji. There are 38 different scenes and the dishes are carefully matched to the season and type of food.



Hamatoku offers a special New Year cuisine (osechi-ryori) that you can order and eat in your own home.

Hamatoku's special New Year bento - Osechi

Hamatoku’s special New Year bento – Osechi

Included in the 28 different foods that are in the bento are some special traditional New Year treats:

Black beans from the Tanba region of Kyoto, boiled in dashi and served with gold leaf

Kuromame are black beans from the Tanba region of Kyoto, boiled in dashi and served with gold leaf. This is a traditional New Year food that represents a wish for good health in the coming year.

Datemaki - rolled egg omelette, made with mild, white-fish paste. This is a traditional New Year food.

Datemaki – rolled egg omelette, made with mild, white-fish paste. This is a traditional New Year food that represents a wish for many auspicious celebratory days in the coming year.

Prawns simmered in sake. This is a traditional New Year food that represents wishes for a long life.

Prawns simmered in sake. This is a traditional New Year food that represents wishes for a long life.

Fresh herring roe from Hokkaido. This caviar is a traditional New Year food which represents the wish for many children and prosperity in the home.

Kazunoko is fresh herring roe from Hokkaido. This caviar is a traditional New Year food which represents the wish for many children and prosperity in the home.

31 Hanazono-icho
Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Closed Wednesdays
Price range: Lunch from 8000 yen; dinner from 9500 yen
(No credit card facility)

Chef Murata’s Harvest Moon Kaiseki

Kikunoi’s Chef Murata talks about the foodways of Otsukimi, the celebration of the Harvest Moon, followed by a typical kaiseki offering at Kikunoi for September.

Kyoto tsukimi-dango

Kyoto tsukimi-dango

September is the month of Otsukimi, celebrating the Harvest Moon. Personally, though, I love to watch not only the full moon, but all the phases of the moon as it waxes and wanes through the month. It’s typical to make offerings to the moon in the form of tsukimi-dango [mochi dumplings shaped like a full moon], as well as chestnuts and satoimo [small taro] and other autumn vegetables. However, since olden times, in Kyoto, the tsukimi-dango are made in the shape of the satoimo and then covered with koshian [adzuki bean paste]. Throughout September, we decorate the entry to Kikunoi with these seasonal offerings, but sadly we can’t actually see the rising full moon from here, so I put up a scroll that shows the full moon instead. For the principle dish [hassun] of the kaiseki meal this month I want to evoke the sense of watching the full moon from a little boat on the lake, with the moon reflected on the surface of the water and the autumn leaves floating by, and as you look towards the shoreline, you can see the pampas grass gently swaying. I want to give the feeling of an evening vista in autumn.

Kikunoi September Hassun

Kikunoi September Hassun


1) Sea bream chrysanthemum sushi (鯛菊花寿司 tai kikka sushi)
Sushi rice mixed with chrysanthemum petals and yuzu, wrapped with lightly vinegared sea bream to form the shape of a chrysanthemum flower

2) Hamo eel and burdock roll (鱧八幡巻き hamo yawata-maki)
Grilled hamo eel wrapped around simmered burdock [gobo]

3) Prawn matsukaze (海老松風 ebi matsukaze)
Minced kuruma prawns mixed with egg and seasonings and baked in the oven and then sprinkled with poppy seeds

4) Baked wrapped chestnuts (焼き目栗茶巾 yakime kuri chakin)
Chestnuts wrapped in a tea-towel and baked in the oven

5) Ginko sweet potato (いちょう芋 ginnan imo)
Sweet potato formed into the shape of a ginko leaf and deep fried

6) Glass shrimp in Shaoxing wine with trout roe (ガラサ海老老酒漬けのすだち釜・鱒の子 garasa ebi raochu-dzuke no sudachi kama, masu no ko)
Glass shrimp are small shrimp harvested in Akashi. The live shrimp are soaked in Shaoxing wine then placed in a sudachi cup and topped with trout roe

7) Salted ginkgo nuts (塩粉吹き銀杏 shio kofuki ginnan)
Ginkgo nuts dusted with fine salt and roasted

8) Somen pine needles (松葉素麺 matsuba somen)
Green tea fine noodles deep-fried to look like pine needles

Source: 菊乃井・風花雪月

Featured Restaurant: Kinmata

This week I am introducing Master Haroji Ukai, seventh-generation head of the traditional kaiseki restaurant Kinmata, a cultural heritage listed building located very near to the Nishiki food market. In recognition of his commitment to styles of cuisine that feature locally grown produce, as well as his extensive knowledge, Master Ukai has been designated by the prefectural authorities as Master of Kyoyasai (traditional Kyoto vegetables). Here is Master Ukai’s introduction from Kinmata’s website:

2013.09.07 kinmataFrom the outset, the staff in the kitchen at Kinmata are all very hard-working and committed. Even though this is a business, there is an awareness that it’s a family business, where everyone understands that each person’s individual contribution is what creates Kinmata. Among the employees there is a spirit of competition as well as cooperation, but in the end it’s offering the customer a satisfying experience that’s important and I think this awareness is what unites us.

My son, who will become the eighth-generation head of Kinmata, has just returned from an eight-year absence, having spent four years in New York and four years in Tokyo. Seeing Kyoto from the outside has given him a deeper sense of just how special Kyoto is and he is already working on how to provide even better service to our customers in overt as well as more subtle ways. So I’m not worried about the future of Kinmata, which looks set to continue to flourish.

Amber-colored Atsumono with an Ear of Rice

Amber-colored Atsumono with an Ear of Rice

About our cuisine:

We really are indebted to our customers, who say things like “Well, I really felt I could taste the season with this meal”, which is just what a chef wants to hear. We don’t just prepare the same menu day after day – we depend on the advice of the people in the grower’s market who tell us what ingredients are at their seasonal best on a particular day. Based on our past experiences and knowledge, we also consider the growing region and conditions. This is certainly the best way to prepare a meal.

But it’s not about the personal satisfaction of the chef, and anyway, you’re limited in just how much you can prepare on the day. It’s more than that. When I was young, I was taken out one cold winter’s night to a small kappo restaurant where we sat around the counter with the chef in front of us, and I was really moved by the experience, such that I’ve never forgotten it. The chef was in his 60s and, although he didn’t know me, he was really happy to chat with me and asked me what I’d like to eat. Straight away he went to the fridge and took out some beautiful pink tilefish, which he proceeded to steam and then grill. It was so good, and I wondered how come he had this kind of delicious food just on hand. Next, he brought out some fugu milt (fugu no shirako) and, without processing it in any way, he just slid it onto a skewer and charcoal grilled it to a lovely golden brown, then sliced off a bit and served it straight away. It was soo~ good!

To this day, I haven’t forgotten how good that tasted! Actually, it was fugu milt pickled in miso (fugu no shirako misozuke). I also had locally grown Kyoto turnips, known as shoinkabu, served with a miso sauce (dengaku) that had the faint fragrance of yuzu and was served piping hot. Then there was a simple red miso soup and white rice. I remember I felt so satisfied that desert wasn’t necessary. And that’s just the kind of cuisine I now offer here at Kinmata, so please come and try it for yourself.

Heritage-listed Kyoto machiya Kinmata

Heritage-listed Kyoto machiya Kinmata

Chef Sasaki’s Pizza Oven

2013.08.10 pizza oven01

Hiroshi Sasaki is the chef and owner of Gion Sasaki, an immensely popular Michelin 2-star kappō (counter style) restaurant down the slope from the Yasaka Pagoda, in the Higashiyama area of Kyoto. The restaurant is approached by a narrow laneway off the street, then up some stairs and around another bend to enter the restaurant itself. The decor is very minimalist and traditionally elegant, which makes the sight of a bricked pizza oven in the centre of the wall opposite the 16-seat mahogany counter seem to be jarringly incongruous at first sight. Sasaki-sensei says, “In 2006, this was the third time we’d moved, so I wanted the pizza oven to be something iconic in the new restaurant.” He wanted to create something unique that would stretch people’s perceptions about traditional Japanese cuisine in Kyoto and raise their expectations about the new restaurant. It is typical of Sasaki-sensei to keep pushing the boundaries.

But the chef’s main reason for installing the pizza oven was because of its heating potential. “The most I can get from a regular oven is about 300°, but with the pizza oven I can get close to 800°.” It seems that being able to utilise such extreme heat opens up new potential for creating innovative Japanese dishes. “I’ve tried cooking vegetables, meat, fish – all kinds of ingredients – to see what could be done with this oven,” he said. One advantage is that the heat comes from all sides and so there is no time wasted in turning things over like you would normally do with a grill. “The heat is applied very quickly so that the food stays fresher. For example, when I use the oven for cooking eel, the skin is really crispy and the flesh remains soft and moist. I even tried putting lettuce in there for 45 seconds and adding just a sprinkle of salt and olive oil and it was surprisingly delicious!”

“I generally keep the temperature at around 480°. It heats up to that temperature quickly and it’s easy to maintain that temperature, which is a characteristic of a gas oven, but I don’t think this would be possible with an electric pizza oven. And none of the heat is wasted: When I turn off the gas at the end of the day, and put in some potatoes, they are baked but still moist the next morning.” As we can see, mastering the pizza oven has created a great asset for Chef Sasaki!

Source: Interview with Chef Sasaki

Here is a humorous entry from a food forum about trying to get a reservation at Gion Sasaki:

It is unbelievably difficult to get a reservation at Gion Sasaki in Kyoto. This is the conversation when I called to make a reservation…

A: Hello. I’d like to make a reservation in July.
B: Of course. What day would you like to come in?
A: Do you have seating Thursday?
B: Sumimasen. No seats available that day.
A: How about Wednesday?
B: I’m sorry, all seats are taken that day as well.
A: Umm… when do you have seats that week?
B: There are no seats available the whole week.
A: So when is your next availability?
B: Next year.
A: … !!

Gion Sasaki:
Address: Yasaka-dori, Yamatooji Higashi iru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Phone: 075-551-5000
Open: Lunch 12:00 – 14:00; Dinner 18:30 – 22:00
Closed: Sundays and every 2nd Monday
Prices: Lunch set ¥5,500; Dinner set ¥18,900 – 23,000 (Service charge 10%)

Gastronomic Eye Candy

Feast your eyes on this luscious display of gourmet summer offerings from Kyoto’s great ryotei (high-class restaurants). It needs no commentary!

Featured Restaurant: Uosaburō

2013.07.31 uosaburoChef Shigeo Araki is the 9th generation owner of Uosaburō, a Kyōkaiseki restaurant founded in 1764, which is located in Fushimi in the south of Kyoto. Uosaburō has a one-star rating with Michelin but is also highly regarded within the Kyoryori establishment. This is a translation from the restaurant’s website, describing the history and traditions of the restaurant.

“Originally from Sanuki (in present day Kagawa Prefecture), the original founder, Saburō Bei, established Uosaburō in 1764.

As the southern gateway to Kyoto, Fushimi was an important junction for river and road transportation of Setouchi fish and Kyoto vegetables, as well as the sake breweries that depended on the abundant local spring water. Uosaburō started out by providing home catering to the local daimyo and wealthy families in their mansions.

During the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, which occurred in 1868 between pro-Imperial and Tokugawa shogunate forces, it is said that on the Kyomachi Road right in front of Uosaburō, the Shinsengumi forces attacked by sword the Satsuma soldiers, who were armed with guns. You can still see the bullet holes from that battle on the lattice on the front of the restaurant.

Bullet marks in the lattice from the Battle of Toba-Fushimi in 1868

Bullet marks in the lattice from the Battle of Toba-Fushimi in 1868

The founder, Saburo Bei, started out by specialising in the preparation of high class fish cuisine and over the years the restaurant has gained a reputation as a Kyoryori restaurant that utilises the superb local spring water, as well as being able to access the freshest fish and vegetables that come through Fushimi, which is a major hub of river and road transport.

2013.07.31 uosaburo2Proud of its Fushimi historical heritage of having catered for the Imperial troops during the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, Uosaburō, now in its 9th generation of successive family chefs, continues to uphold it culinary traditions and craftsmanship.

It is the Uosaburō tradition to use only the choicest parts of the sea bream that we bring back every day from the Chuō or Akashi fish markets. Also, from the preparation of the tea to the dashi stock that forms the basis of all the meals, we only use the natural spring water from the Uosaburō well, which draws from the famous Fushimi spring called Gokōsui (officially designated by the Japanese Government as one of Japan’s most significant natural water sources). Furthermore, the local sake that is made with this same water goes together perfectly with the seasonal Kyoto vegetables, creating a cuisine that is thoroughly steeped in these traditions.”

3-187 Kyomachi, Fushimi-ku, Kyoto
Phone: 075-601-0061
Lunch: 11:30 -14:00; ¥3,150-26,250 (plus 15% service charge)
Dinner: 17:00-22:00; ¥10,500-26,250 (plus 15% service charge)

Gokosui spring at Gokonomiya Shrine in Fushimi

Gokosui spring at Gokonomiya Shrine in Fushimi

The Gokōsui spring is officially designated by the Japanese Government as one of the most important water sources Japan. It is also the principal reason why there are many sake breweries clustered in the Fushimi area. Apparently, the Gokōsui water contains a lower mineral content than other harsher mineral-filled waters, which gives the sake made with Gokōsui a much gentler and elegant flavor, and therefore is known as Onnazake or “feminine sake”. If you want to fill your water bottle with this pure spring water, you can do so at any time at the Gokōnomiya Shrine in Fushimi.