This last installment of Seikoro Ryokan is just for all the food ^.^ Two complete kaiseki meals and breakfasts are featured, because we'd spent two nights there. All the meals were served in-room.
After the kimono trying and photographing session, we were all starving and looking forward to dinner. This was when we got ourselves another cultural lesson, and one that's perhaps a bit more jarring than learning about the junihitoe. Earlier in the later afternoon, hubby and I'd arrived to Seikoro before C. and A. did. The table was still empty then, so we just sat down wherever we saw fit. I was in hubby's seat, and he was in mine. Apparently that was a no-no, and to be honest, we knew but didn't think they'd make a big deal out of it. Well, we were wrong.
You see, the seat right in front of the tokonoma (the decorative alcove within a washitsu) is the most important one in the room. And the hostess literally kicked me out of that seat, telling us a man ought to have the most important seat and not a woman. The four of us were speechless. Given it wasn't the time or place to start an argument, and either way we understood the hostess had nothing personal against me, we just stared at each other wide-eyed with our eyebrows raised and then quietly complied. Woah.
If you're wondering this way of thinking is unique to a traditional ryokan in more conservative Kyoto, the answer is a sad "nope." Hubby and I have encountered numerous incidents like this even in the heart of modern and technologically advanced Tokyo. Some incidents took us aback, others shocked and upset us. When you're in Japan often or long enough, you'll realize the country has her flaws--as does every country on this planet. After living in Japan for the third time, hubby and I have learned to reconcile, accept, and love Japan for all her greatness and not-so-greats. We'd never raise our kids there, but we love living there a couple of years at a time.
Anyway, time to down some sake and umeshu and forget what just happened ^.^" Hubby turned to look at me and we nodded at each other in agreement. The hostess wanted to play the traditional game with us, so we returned the gesture. As she finished laying out our drinks and starter courses, with two hands and a bow hubby respectfully handed her an envelope containing a 5,000yen bill. Let me explain.
No, that was not a bribe. That was a tip. But but but there's no tipping in Japan, you said! Yes, this is absolutely true and tipping is not expected in Japan. In fact, I do not recommend you try tipping, that is, unless you know the right place--and the right way--to tip.
If you've been to a high-end hotel or restaurant in Japan, you'll notice that there was a "service charge" of 8-15% on your bill. That was a tip, folks. So it shouldn't surprise anyone to know that people can and do tip at high-end ryokans like Seikoro also. You just have time it well and deliver it well or it'll turn rather awkward. The right time is when the host or hostess finish laying out your drinks and starter courses at dinner, and the right way is with two hands, a bow, and a short phrase along the lines of, "ほんの少しですけれども、..." ("this is really nothing but...").
Out hostess was floored. On her kneeling seat she accepted the envelope, also with two hands, a deeper bow, and a string of keigo thank you's. But but but why would we tip her after she kicked me out of my seat? Because we didn't tip her but rather the ryokan. In my humble knowledge this is how the tipping system works in Japan. The server/host accepts it on behalf of the house and not for him/herself. The hostess' personal belief and way of thinking didn't change the fact that the ryokan was taking excellent care of the four of us.
Anyway, back to the food. Here's Kyoto style sushi: squarish roll of vinegar-ed rice with slices of fish on top, all wrapped in a sasa leaf (broad-leaf bamboo). Perhaps the American sushi rolls took their inspiration from Kyoto? Read more about Kyoto style sushi here. In Tokyo, the predominant sushi style is nigirizushi, with few exceptions.
Check out the details in this sashimi plate, like the daikon carved into the shape of a fan. I noticed another thing about Kyoto kaiseki food: jelly. They made broths, sauces, etc., into jelly, like that seaweed jelly cube next to the daikon fan.
Note the jellied broth over our green and white konyaku noodles. That grilled fish (bottom right) was probably my favorite out of the entire meal. I'd no idea what kind of fish it was and it didn't matter anyway. The fish was delicately flavored, crispy, and simply delicious!
We breathed our collective relief at rice and miso soup being served, a signal that the end was near. Phew.
Dessert was rather simple, just fruits and milk pudding. We wouldn't have been able to eat anymore than that anyway.
Breakfast was great also. I especially liked that grilled salmon. I guess that's my jam, grilled fish, and just my luck Japan happens to be excellent at grilling fish ^.^
The second evening we were served an equally delicious dinner, and much more interesting! Coming back from our sightseeing, we were greeted by a different hostess than the one we had yesterday. This lady was much older, must have been in her late 60's or early 70's! She was quirky, surprisingly direct and outspoken, and she spoke with Kyoto-ben which was really fun to hear ^.^ Upon chatting with her we learned she was the senior-most hostess of the ryokan having worked there for 30+ years, and that she'd be taking care of us in place of our younger hostess yesterday. While serving us some hot towels, and afternoon matcha and wagashi, she told us the owner of the ryokan would like to come greet and thank us in person.
And so the owner came by and she looked like she'd walked straight out of feudal Japan: in a formal kimono, hair done the traditional style, and teeth lacquered black (ohaguro, still practiced in and around the geisha districts of Kyoto). She got onto her kneeling seat and bowed and proceeded to chat with us in keigo, or rather just hubby really :P She told us about the history of the ryokan, asked us what places we went to that day, what our plans were for tomorrow. As she excused herself from the room, she explained she hasn't had the pleasure of personally chatting with her patrons for a long time.
Later we learned from our older hostess this translated to them having an endless and growing stream of foreign patrons. Meanwhile, their Japanese patrons have all but disappeared. Upon inquiring some more we learned the gradual Japanese patron "phase-out" started after the Michelin guide included Seikoro in its recommendation. Interesting, hmm? It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, our hostess said. The ryokan did their best to serve guests with food allergies and exclusions, etc., but they won't bend over backwards to cater to foreign taste. After all, the whole point of staying in a ryokan is to have an authentic Japanese experience. We wholeheartedly agreed.
Anyway, back to the meal. More jelly was involved, a cherry tomato encased in clear broth jelly in the red flower and two jelly cubes of something with seaweed in it. More Kyoto-style sushi too.
Amai ebi and various other sashimi with another daikon fan :)
Grilled Kyoto-style eggplant with a dollop of black miso on top. They used the rounder eggplant variety with white skin and not the usual long ones with dark purple skin.
As you can see, lots and lots of fish and seafood!
Tempura course, then the final rice course.
For desserts, this time around we got a few small bites of fresh fruits and more wagashi. It was a red bean-flavored pudding topped with a dango (mochi ball), a boiled sweet chestnut, and a small dollop of anko. Sooo good!
The second breakfast was also tasty and manageable.
Would hubby and I go back to Seikoro? Yes, absolutely, though may be not during August when it's peak travel season. Not only room options were limited, it was way more expensive than otherwise would be.
See my previous posts: