In this blog Matsunaga-sensei talks about the Kankakuni Ceremony and the art of decorative garnishing [mukimono] in Kyoto cuisine.
On November 8th, a ceremony is performed to honour the poet and playwright Isamu Yoshii (1886-1960), who was a much-loved patron of Gion. Just near to the Tatsumi Bridge that crosses the Shirokawa River in Gion, the maiko and geisha from this area offer white chrysanthemums at a stone monument that has a poem by Isamu engraved on it, and later there is a reception where matcha and soba are served. This natural stone monument was erected to celebrate Yoshii Isamu’s 70th birthday on the 8th of November, 1955. The name of the ceremony “Kanikakuni” translates as “no matter what happens” and comes from the first line of Isamu’s poem that is carved into the rock:
No matter what happens
I yearn for Gion
Even when I sleep
The sound of water
Flows beneath my pillow
Here is a video of the Kanikakuni Ceremony (note the cacophany of cameras!)
Chrysanthemums are in season now, and I am reminded of the way that we carve vegetables into decorative shapes that include the chrysanthemum. In Kyoto cuisine, we always carve the yam in a hexagonal shape and we always carve the lotus root in the shape of a stylised chrysanthemum, but an autumn favourite is to carve the large Kyoto variety of turnip – shogoin-kabu – into a chrysanthemum (see recipe and video in the following blog). If you say that you are able to carve these kinds of decorations, it’s another way of saying that you’ve attained proficiency in handling a knife. In this industry, mastering the knife is the absolute foundation of the art of cooking. My eldest daughter, Kanae Yamamoto, is the head teacher of the elementary class at our cooking school, and watching the way the light glints off the blade of the knife as she deftly and swiftly carves these vegetables, I call her the “Carving Maestro”!
Here is an interesting short video on another carving master, making a chrysanthemum from a daikon radish. What wonderful knife skills!
Chef Motokazu Nakamura is the 6th generation head chef and owner of the Michelin 2-star kaiseki restaurant Nakamura. This article, translated from a series about the top Kyoto chefs, discusses the importance of the concept of “isshisōden” – the Japanese custom of the preservation of a secret art by transmitting the oral tradition from parent to just one child. This word prefixes the full title of the restaurant: Isshisōden Kyōnoaji Nakamura
The method of transmission that characterises Nakamura is known as “isshisōden.” Passing down a tradition to just one child, who is your own flesh and blood, is like creating something so precious that it can never be taken away, which is quite different to the way that a master craftsman or scholar might just choose some disciple to carry on their lineage. In the “isshisōden” way, the parent can take pride in the reassurance that the tradition will be passed on into the future without the slightest change. It is this pride that is reflected in the name of the Kyoto cuisine restaurant “Isshisoden Nakamura.”
The history of restaurant itself starts in 1804, when the founding Nakamura set up a fish shop which supplied tilefish, mackeral, flounder, and so on, that had been brought directly from Wakasa Bay, on the Sea of Japan, to Kyoto, along the famous “Mackeral Highway.” From the time of second generation Nakamura, they honed their cooking skills by preparing meals that were particularly liked by the court nobility. Then the third generation Nakamura expanded the catering business and fourth generation Nakamura opened an inn for visiting important government officials, until finally, they opened up their own Kyoto cuisine restaurant. And so now the sixth generation inheritor of these Nakamura specialties is Motokazu Nakamura, who carries on the tradition with dishes such as shiromiso-ozoni and guji-no-sakeyaki [tilefish grilled with sake].
Let’s take for example the shiromiso-ozoni, which is one of Nakamura’s signature dishes. A round cake of mochi is baked on coals until it releases a pleasing char-grilled aroma; then the mochi is immersed into a glossy white miso soup and garnished with a thinned karashi mustard. This dish is closely associated with the cuisine of the Imperial Court from the era when the palace was located in Kyoto. The chef’s skill is in drawing out the flavours of these four simple ingredients – water, miso, karashi mustard, and mochi – without the use of dashi stock or added seasoning.
Motokazu Nakamura says, “As the only son inheriting the culinary tradition of Nakamura, what was transmitted to me was just simple cooking. For this reason, there’s just no need for fancy bells and whistles! For example, you have to be aware of the slight changes in the taste of the miso, such as the miso at the bottom of the barrel is more pungent than the sweeter tasting miso from the middle of the barrel. And the mochi has to be grilled to just the right degree in order to bring out the sweetness of the miso. It is this perfect and complete balance of those four ingredients that is the foundation of culinary success.”
The essential sense for a chef to develop is not so much in the craft of cooking, but rather to what extent he is able to “hear the voice of the ingredients.” Precisely because this is such an intuitive sense, handing down this knowledge is extremely difficult. Cultivating this intuitive sense of taste by educating the palate and developing an understanding through the body can only be learned by being fully immersed in the tradition from early childhood. It would seem then that this means of transmission is indeed a unique method.
Motokazu Nakamura continues, “In talking about isshisōden, I don’t mean that we learn secret arts of cooking that we cannot share with the outside. But rather, what is learned is a kind of spirituality through which we can transmit this knowledge about the ingredients to the guests we serve. When I was learning how to grill the mochi for the ozoni from my father, who was the fifth generation Nakamura, he would say ‘Grill this mochi as if your life depended on it!’ He really thought it wasn’t an exaggeration to say you have to risk your life for this mochi! [laugh] But now when I think about it, I realise that it was this attitude of complete devotion towards cooking that was passed on down to me.”
In cultivating this deep harmony between parent and child, it is the spirit of offering the guest a unique and precious experience that is the true culinary inheritance.
You can read an interview in English with Motokazu Nakamura at Phaidon, where he has been included in the book COCO
Char-grilled sanma (Pacific saury) is a quintessential autumn dish in Kyoto and chefs all have their signature way of preparing this simple and delicious fish. You can learn more about sanma from Elizabeth Andoh (in English). The standard presentation is to char-grill the fish whole and serve it with grated daikon radish and wedge of sudachi (a small tart citrus). In this blog entry, I have translated the recipe for sanma rice as it is prepared by Chef Sasaki, of Gion Sasaki restaurant. The key to perfecting this dish is the donabe in which the rice and fish are cooked – a donabe is an earthenware pot traditionally used for steaming rice.
Sanma gohan (Pacific saury and rice)
Chef Sasaki: “Char-grilled sanma with fragrant rice: the perfect combination, with grated daikon and a squeeze of sudachi. This is what I want on those autumn nights!”
2 whole Pacific saury
A little salt
100g grated daikon radish
A dash of light shoyu [soy sauce]
2 or 3 sudachi
2 cups of rice [in Japan, a ‘cup’ of rice is called a gō 合 – it is equal to 180mls]
360mls dashi stock with 2 tsp light shoyu
1. Remove the heads and fillet the fish, then sprinkle the fillets with salt and leave for two hours.
2. Insert a fine-bladed knife under the skin of the fillets to loosen the skin a little.
3. Using a fish-griller, use a high heat to char-grill the fillets, but stop when the flesh is still half-raw.
4. Add the dashi and the light shoyu to the rice and cook in a donabe [a traditional clay cooking pot]. When the rice begins to steam, place the fillets on top of the rice and continue cooking.
5. When the rice has cooked, spread the grated daikon over the top and then sprinkle sudachi juice over it.
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.
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.
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
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:
From 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.
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.
Kyoto is famous not only for its traditional Kyoryori gourmet cuisine, but also for its sweets (okashi). Being the cultural centre for the tea ceremony, it has also developed as a centre for traditional tea ceremony sweets. Konpeitō (derived from the Portuguese word “confeito”) is not exactly a special tea ceremony sweet, but Kyoto is famous for this simple sugar candy. Here is a video about how konpeitō has been made at the Ryokujuan Shimizu store since 1847. The translation follows underneath.
Narrator: Ryokujuan Shimizu is a Kyoto traditional shop that makes konpeitō.
Reporter: I’m being lured in by the sweet smell… Ah, here it is.
Ikuko Shimizu (managing director): Please come in.
Reporter: Thank you. Wow – as soon as you step into the room the sweet smell really hits you!
Ikuko Shimizu: That’s right! In summer it’s get to more than 50 degrees in here.
Reporter: 50 degrees!
Ikuko Shimizu: Yes, for the workers its a pretty tough job.
Reporter: What’s the flavour of this one?
Yasuhiro Shimizu (5th generation head of Ryokujuan Shimizu): This one’s ume-shu [plum wine]
Yasuhiro Shimizu: That’s right. Here, you keep adding sugar syrup and as the moisture evaporates, the sugar forms crystals which creates the candy. In the drum, the temperature is about what you’d need to cook a steak – about 200 degrees.
Reporter: About 200 degrees?
Yasuhiro Shimizu: And so as the moisture evaporates, only the sugar crystals remain, which is how the candy is produced.
Narrator: It takes considerable time and effort to make konpeitō. The process starts with crushed mochi rice granules, upon which sugar syrup is basted many times over and over again for about two weeks, gradually growing bigger until they reach the desired size. At Ryokujuan Shimizu, the finished product is so imbued with originality that they have created truly unique kinds of konpeitō. They have recently created a cider-flavoured konpeitō. In summer, there is mango and coconut, and in autumn there is roasted chestnut and black soybean flavoured konpeitō. Ryokujuan Shimizu is constantly creating all kinds of interesting flavours that complement the season.
Yasuhiro Shimizu: To produce the distinctive candy burrs of konpeitō, depends on four factors: the speed of the drum, the angle of drum, the density of the syrup, and the degree of heat. If these conditions are not met exactly, then the characteristic burr shape won’t occur. The sound of the falling konpeitō is like the sound of heavily falling rain. But you have to be able to hear the slightest change in that sound. It’s like when you’re raising a child, you know when your baby isn’t feeling well or is hungry or needs a nappy change, without having to say anything. And so it’s just the same with the slight changes in the sound of the falling konpeitō that shows you it wants the temperature increased a little or it wants the drum speed slowed, and so on.
Narrator: The makers of this candy certainly put in a great effort, one by one creating each konpeitō with care and attention.
Reporter: Keep it up! <laughter> Well, it’s so hot here! But it’s great – so delicious and such fun! Thank you!
Narrator: Even though it’s a traditional candy, it’s new. And that’s rather like the town of Kyoto itself.
As Matsunaga-sensei mentioned in the last entry, during Obon people traditionally eat shōjin ryōri foods; that is, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. One of the most popular ways to prepare vegetarian foods such as tofu, namafu (wheat gluten), kon’nyaku and deep fried kamonasu (one of Kyoto’s traditional vegetables known as kyoyasai, kamonasu is a lovely firm round eggplant), is to add a miso paste sauce called dengaku. There are many variations of this sauce which you can find even in English by googling “dengaku”. Here is Matsunaga-sensei’s dengaku recipe.
300g white miso
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs sake
1) Put the water and sake in a saucepan and heat; then add the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, switch off the heat and leave to cool.
2) In an enamel saucepan, mix together the white miso and the egg yolk.
3) Gradually add the cooled liquid from (1), stirring well to mix.
4) Place on a low to medium heat and gently bring to the boil, stirring continuously until slightly thickened. From time to time, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then return the pot to the flame. Repeat this procedure, being careful not to scorch the sauce on the bottom of the pot, until you can see the bottom of the pot as you are stirring. This should take about five minutes. Chefs often use a double-boiler, or immerse a smaller pot in larger saucepan of hot water.
Here is a video featuring the dengaku sauce from Chef Ikai of the kaiseki restaurant Kinmata (who I will be introducing in an upcoming blog). Notice that he doesn’t use an egg, but adds ginger juice.
Here is an English-language video which shows how to make eggplant “nasu dengaku”.