In Kyoto, as in the rest of Japan, seasonality is fundamental to cuisine. The year is traditionally divided not just into the familiar four seasons, but into 24 seasons, which is further broken down to 72 mini-seasons of about 5 days each. This is a translation from Chef Iida’s book about the 72 seasons of the year and the foods that he recommends to accompany those seasons.
Kiji-hajimete-naku occurs between January 15th and 19th and refers to the season when the call of the pheasant is first heard.
On January 18th, at Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in the city of Yawata in Kyoto prefecture, they celebrate the festival Aoyamasai, and on January 19th, they celebrate Shōnōsai. Aoyamasai, in the Heian era, was an event to prevent the demon Ekijin from entering Kyoto. Prayers are chanted in front of the kami altar which is adorned with sakaki branches from Aoyama, in order to trap the demon. Because the ritual is held late at night, it is also known as Kurayamisai – Festival of Darkness. In the Shōnōsai ritual, the supplicants write their name and age onto a stick that is then burned in the sacred fire, in order to pray for protection from illness and maintain good health in the coming year as well as purification from all defilement.
My recommendation for this season is “steamed duck.” At first, the degree of steaming required is difficult to calculate, but don’t be afraid to try this at home.
Firstly, purchase fresh duck breast meat. Because wild mallard ducks have an unpleasant aroma, it is best to buy aigamo, which is a cross between a mallard and domestic duck. Trim the excess meat and fat from the breasts and remove the thin skin. Holding about 10 bamboo skewers in a bunch in your fist, prick the skin surface of the duck multiple times with the skewers. Next, place the duck, skin side down in a fry pan and fry just until the skin turns golden brown. Quickly rinse the duck with boiling water to remove the excess fat, then place the duck into a pot or baking dish.
Mix sake and mirin in a saucepan and boil to reduce, add shoyu to season. Pour this mixture over the duck, add chopped shinbu (davalia fern) and slices of ginger, seal with a lid, then place the dish in a steamer and steam for 15~18 minutes. Because the amount of steaming required depends on the thickness of the duck meat and the intensity of the steam, push the meat with your fingertip and if it still feels soft like raw meat in the middle, then steam it a little longer. But be careful not to cook it too long or else the meat will be too tough.
When you’ve steamed the duck, take it out of the broth and pierce the edge of the duck with a skewer and some blood should still come out. Return the duck to the broth and let it cool overnight in the refridgerator. The flavour of the meat will permeate the broth and a layer of fat will form on the surface. Carefully remove this layer of fat.
Duck that has been steamed exactly right will be deliciously tender with a beautiful rose pink colour. Some people prefer not to eat the skin of the duck; however, because duck fat actually lowers cholesterol, please don’t hesitate to eat the skin. Serve garnished with plain or seeded mustard.
Source: 『京都料理七十に候』 by 飯田 知史, page 14
Chef Satoshi Iida has a blog that he updates twice a week, in which he refers to activities occurring at his restaurant, Dōraku, or classes he is teaching, or observations about the seasons. I was reading about his kaiseki class for this month and I thought I’d unpack the items he records as a way of further exploring the art of kaiseki. In the class he discusses aspects of kaiseki and then the participants enjoy a kaiseki meal based on his lecture. Although sadly I can’t attend his class, I found the list of items he records in his blog fascinating. It also highlights the way that food culture in Kyoto is so intimately associated with other arts such as tea ceremony, ceramics, calligraphy, incense, and so on. [Cate]
Omukai: Hiramasa no konbu-jime
Omukai is the honorific form of “mukazuke,” which is the first course in cha-kaiseki (kaiseki for tea ceremony), and in a formal kaiseki meal it is a sashimi course. Mukazuke in traditional cha-kaiseki is a small tray arranged in a triangular shape of three dishes: a sashimi dish, a bowl of rice and a bowl of soup. Hiramasa is yellowtail amberjack or kingfish. Kombu-jime is a technique whereby the slices of fish are sandwiched between two layers of kombu, which is a very popular way of serving sashimi in Kyoto. Here is a great video showing how it’s done (I’ll translate this one in the next blog)
Shiru: Tōgan to Awafu
Traditionally, in cha-kaiseki, the soup (shiru) contains the flesh of a melon of some kind and a piece of fu (wheat gluten); in this case, Chef Iida has used winter melon and awafu, which is wheat gluten with millet added to give it a yellowish tinge. Fu is an important staple of shojin ryori and Kyoto is famous for its fu cuisine.
Nimono: Guji and Junsai
The next course in traditional cha-kaiseki is the main dish, called “nimono-wan,” which literally means something that has been boiled or simmered and refers to the dish being cooked rather than raw. Guji is tilefish. Junsai is an interesting aquatic plant that grows in shallow ponds and is surrounded by a thick mucilage that is prized in Japanese cuisine. It is harvested fresh between June and September.
Yakimono: Masu no Kenchin-yaki
Yakimono is a broiled or grilled dish. Masu is trout and here it is prepared in the “kenshin” style, which means stuffed with a mixture of a variety of finely sliced vegetables including tofu and then baked.
Shiizakana: Hamo zaku-zaku
Shiizakana course is usually a substantial dish like a nabe (casserole), although I’m not sure how Chef Iida prepared this dish: hamo is conger pike eel and “zaku-zaku” means “roughly chopped.”
Hassun: Spot-billed Duck and Truffle-stuffed Tiger Prawns
The Hassun course is usually served as the second course of full kaiseki banquet, although it is sometimes served in the middle courses. This course is served on a small lacquer tray with two delicacies: one from the mountains or fields, and one from the ocean.
Kōnomono: Takuan and Kokabu
Kōnomono is another word for tsukemono, pickled vegetables; the character 香, meaning smell or scent or fragrance, refers to the pungent odour of the pickles. Takuan is pickled daikon radish, perhaps the most common pickle in Japan, and kokabu is pickled turnip, which is a Kyoto speciality because the kokabu variety of turnip is one of the so-called kyoyasai, vegetables that are grown in Kyoto prefecture and especially associated with Kyoto cuisine.
After listing the foods that were prepared for this presentation, Chef Iida goes on to discuss the dishes he used…
“In general I use dishes such as Hanshichi 半七, Ōhi 大樋, Kyō-yaki 京焼, and so on.”
Hanshichi ware comes from the family of artisans named Shirai Hanshichi, who originally were associated with the Imado pottery kilns in Tokyo, but after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1924, the family moved to Hyogo-ken and their kiln is now located Mito city. They are known for their tea ceremony wares.
Kyō-yaki is the generic term for ceramics from Kyoto, specifically from the Higashiyama area, which have evolved several distinct styles of ceramics.
Chef Iida then goes on to itemise the provenance of the various tea items used in the kaiseki presentation:
“The scroll hanging in the machiai [meeting room] is by Yokoyama Seiki”
Seiki Yokoyama (1792-1864) was a Kyoto artist who was well-known for his bird and landscape paintings. Here is an example I found at Erik Thomsen’s gallery (the closeup of the quail is especially lovely)
“The scroll in the main room is by Shunoku Sōen”
Sōen Shunoku (1529-1611) was a Rinzai Zen monk who was born in southern Kyoto and who became the abbot of Daitokuji, one of the five great Zen temples in Kyoto, which has a long and close association with the development of the tea ceremony.
“The kama [iron pot for boiling the water for tea ceremony] is by Yoshiha Yohei”
Yoshiha Yohei is the current master of the iron works of the same name, located in the south of Kyoto, which specialises in tea ceremony ironware, including pots for boiling the water, vases, bowls and bells.
“The incense container (kōgō) is made by Kawamoto Gorō”
Gorō Kawamoto (1919-1986) was a multi-talented craftsman who excelled in dyeing and ceramics; he received the prestigious art award Nihon Toji Kyokai in 1959 and his work is held in many museums, including the Kyoto Museum of Modern Art and the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art.
“The charcoal tongs (hibashi) are made by Jōeki”
Nakagawa Jōeki is a family of metal artists that have been making tea ceremony implements in Kyoto for about 400 years.
“The tea caddy (cha-ire) is Shigaraki ware”
Cha-ire is a pottery tea caddy with a lid that is lined with gold and is usually used when preparing thick tea (koicha). Shigaraki ware is made in Shigaraki, in Shiga prefecture, to the east of Kyoto, and is one of the “Six Old Kilns” of Japan. The simple, unpretentious, yet naturally beautiful pottery is particularly suited to the wabi-sabi of tea ceremony.
“The tea scoop (chashaku) was made by Daiki Ōshō”
A chashaku is carved from a single piece of bamboo, but its elegant simplicity belies its artistic merit. Daiki Tachibana (1898-2005) was a high priest of Daitokuji temple in Kyoto, the abbot of one of the subtemples of this great Rinzai Zen temple complex, Nyoian, as well as holding various administrative positions such as president of Hanazono University. He was also a tea master and made many tea implements himself, such as this chashaku, which is poetically inscribed “hagi no shuku” (“the place where the red clover resides”) and is currently for sale for US$1,300.
“The tea caddy bag (shifuku) is made from Nishijin brocade”
Nishijin is an area of Kyoto that is historically associated with weaving, especially the luxurious brocade that Kyoto textiles are famous for.
“The tea caddy (natsume) is antique Ujibashi lacquerware.”
The natsume tea caddy is usually made of lacquer and is for making thin tea (usuicha).
“For koicha, a variety of Hagi tea bowls were used; for usuicha, a mixture of Shigaraki and Kyōyaki shallow tea bowls were used.”
Hagi tea bowls are prized among tea connoisseurs, you can read about them here and here. Shallow tea bowls, called hira chawan, are especially associated with summer.
“The flower vase was made by Isesaki Jun.”
Jun Isesaki (b.1936) is considered the greatest contemporary Bizen ceramic artist and was designated as a Living National Treasure of Japan in 2004.
“Flowers: Rose of Sharon (gionmamori), Asiatic dayflower (tsuyukusa), begonia (shūkaidō), morning glory (hirugao).”
“The omogashi sweets were kinako mochi served in antique shunkei lacquer high-sided tray (fuchidaka).”
Omogashi sweets are sometimes called moist sweets and are served with koicha. Shunkei lacquer is a method of applying transparent lacquer so that the grain of the wood can still be seen. Kinako mochi is softened mochi coated in roasted soybean flour and sugar. Here is how to make it yourself in the microwave…
“The higashi sweets were wasanbon-uchimono served on antique pinewood trays (bon).”
Higashi sweets are served with usuicha and are called dry sweets. Wasanbon-uchimono are sweets made only of compressed refined Japanese sugar that are pressed into moulds to create shaped sweets that are appropriate to the season.
Whew! What a gastronomic marathon! And Chef Iida does a different kaiseki presentation twice a month!