On May 24, 2017 I had the opportunity to visit the Minokichi restaurant inside of Hotel New Hankyu (near Kyoto station) alongside Ritsumeikan University representatives and my fellow classmates.
The elaborate chandeliers and carpeted floors inside the hotel starkly contrasted with the quaint, dimly lit restaurant found on the ground floor. An illustration of Kyoto’s most famous points of interest decorated the entire back wall of the dining area, where a chef bowed and greeted us as we entered.
Kaiseki-ryori, a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner, the chef stressed, has its basis in a proper stock. For without a proper stock, the chef stated, there cannot be a proper Japanese meal. On a stand toward the front of the room, he exemplified this theory by boiling seaweed into a broth. A sip of the broth surprised me, and I found myself agreeing, this simple soup was delicious and I was anxious to try more dishes.
Then we stepped into the kitchen. The steamy, narrow room was mostly filled by counters, making it difficult and dangerous to navigate. Containers were laid out with the ingredients we would need to prepare our meal. We were divided into four groups and tasked with preparing appetizers, fried food and the like. I tried my hand at dipping shrimp into batter and breading, and hesitantly slipped them into boiling oil. The cheeky cook that assisted us joked of our poor skills. I was intimidated at how well he handled the food and slightly embarrassed at my own clumsiness. After setting the food onto the plates in the dining room, we were ready to eat. Tempura, egg, sushi, soup, salad, mochi— it was all so savory and it was hard to believe I had had a hand in preparing the meals in front of us.
So far, this experience has been one of the most rewarding. I felt so invested and enveloped in the atmosphere. I found myself wishing I could learn and experience more of how food influences and is influenced by culture. It was such a privilege to listen to such skilled cooks and it all helped me feel how fulfilling it can be to prepare a meal for not only myself, but for friends as well.
Kyoto has been wonderful. Elaborate shrines, temples, and castles are regular sights along the bus route to class. Mountain ranges encircle the city and keep the nights cool and the days warm. Narrow streets are packed with shops and food stands. Summer festivals, melon flavored shaved ice and the beautiful sounds of the Japanese language at every corner make me wish I could stay much, much longer than five weeks.
I hope I can keep learning much more about this beautiful city.
Bye for now…