The insider’s guide to kaiseki cuisine

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Usually served at traditional ryokan inns or specialised restaurants, kaiseki is Japan’s answer to haute cuisine. A kaiseki meal consists of a set menu of many little dishes served in a prescribed order, showing off many different cooking techniques, flavours and textures, each presented more beautifully than the last.

Tackling kaiseki can be daunting, but our handy Insider Guide will help you decipher any menu. Although the courses will vary according to seasonal and regional specialities, all kaiseki meals usually include the following:



A small glass of sweet wine or local alcohol.Kaiseki aperitif



Bite-sized appetisers on a rectangular plate.

Kaiseki appetiser

Main courses


A light soup with vegetables, tofu or seafood.Kaiseki soup


Thinly sliced, raw fish with shredded radish. Soy sauce is provided for dipping.

Kaiseki sashimi

Grilled dish

Grilled meat or fish. Often wagyu beef, river fish or seafood.

Kaiseki meat

Deep-fried fish

Vegetable and seafood tempura, deep fried in a light flour batter. Served with a dipping sauce or salt seasoning.
Kaiseki fish

Boiled dish

Vegetables, meat or seafood simmered in soy sauce, sweet cooking sake and sugar.

Kaiseki vegetables

Steamed dish

A savoury egg custard with morsels of mushrooms, chicken, ginko nuts and seafood. It’s OK to eat this with a teaspoon!

Kaiseki steamed dish

Vinegared dish

Vegetables and seafood (often prawns or octopus) dressed in a vinegar-based sauce.

Kaiseki vinegared dish

Rice courses

Miso soup

Miso soup with vegetables, tofu or seafood.
Kaiseki miso soup


A small assortment of pickled vegetables.Kaiseki pickled vegetables


A bowl of rice comes towards the end of the meal.
Kaiseki rice

This illustrated insider’s guide features in this edition of our free travel magazine, East. Subscribe to receive East in the post three times a year, for free!

Try kaiseki cuisine on our Gastronomic Adventure itinerary. From £2,670 for 13 nights (exc. intl. flights).

Thank you to Matt Lodge who shared a photo of his kaiseki feast with us. We are a little bit hungry now though…

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