I experienced an unforgettable meal in Japan thanks to my friend and colleague, Masahiro Ouchi who suggested that I stay at the traditional ryokan, Kanamean in Kyoto. It was way more expensive than my budget allowed but I decided that I wanted to have dinner there since it seemed like such a special place. It was a stretch for me financially, but I decided to go for the 12,000 yen meal (about $140) since I knew it was doubtful that I would ever do it again.
It was a great decision and a very interesting experience.
When I arrived, I was greeted by a charming man and 2 kimono-clad women who escorted me to a private tatami dining room. I sat on the floor at a low table looking out over a small but beautiful garden. I was brought a small cup of sake with a few yellow chrysanthemum leaves floating in it and some sashimi covered with chestnut.
In two and a half hours, I was served an 8-course meal — each course more beautiful than the last. The high points included 3 perfect edamame placed on a leaf ….a tiny, flawless quail egg suspended in fish aspic…4 small slices of the perfect pear delicately topped by a shiso leaf…snapping turtle soup…barracuda sushi (those were the weird things)…sake served in bamboo…..miso soup, rice, & pickles….green tea.
The food was incredibly healthy and served in minuscule portions (a bite or 2 of a number of things, mostly fish and vegetables) that exploded with flavor in your mouth. It was beautifully presented on exquisite pottery accented by seasonal elements of the natural world – bright red maple leaves, sheaves of wheat, gingko nuts. Every bite completely delicious and fulfilling. Every bite to be savored and enjoyed.
I’ve traveled all over the world and had many memorable meals (some of them cooked by myself, friends or family) but this one was unique. Even though in terms of quantity, there wasn’t much of it, around the 6th course, I realized how full I was. The aesthetics of the presentation and the exquisite flavors combined to provide a fullness of experience that was completely satisfying but difficult to describe.
I know that a meal like this is not for those who are literally starving but it made me think about the place that hunger and satisfaction occupy in our lives. When we say we’re hungry, are we hungry for food or for something else?
Is it possible to feed ourselves on beauty?
©Photographs by Sharon Smith
All rights reserved