Kaiseki (懐石?) or cha-kaiseki (茶懐石?) is a meal served in the context of a formal tea function. In cha-kaiseki, only fresh seasonal ingredients are used, prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavour. Great care is taken in selecting ingredients and types of food, and the finished dishes are carefully presented on serving ware that is chosen to enhance the appearance and seasonal theme of the meal. Dishes are intricately arranged and garnished, often with real edible leaves and flowers that are to help enhance the flavour of the food. Serving ware and garnishes are as much a part of the kaiseki experience as the food; some might argue that the aesthetic experience of seeing the food is even more important than the physical experience of eating it.
The basic constituents of a cha-kaiseki meal are the ichijū sansai (一汁三菜?) or "one soup, three side dishes", and the rice, plus the following: suimono, hassun, yutō, and kōnomono. The one soup referred to here is usually miso soup, and the basic three side dishes are the following:
- mukōzuke (向こう付け?): foods in a dish arranged on the far side of the meal tray for each guest, which is why it is called mukōzuke (lit., "set to the far side"). Often this might be some kind of sashimi. On the near side of the meal tray are arranged the rice and the soup, both in lacquered lidded bowls.
- nimono (煮物?): simmered foods, served in individual lidded bowls.
- yakimono (焼き物?): grilled foods (usually some kind of fish), brought out in a serving dish for the guests to serve themselves.
- suimono (吸い物?): clear soup served in a small lacquered and lidded bowl, to cleanse the palate before the exchange of saké (rice wine) between host and guests. Also referred to as kozuimono (小吸い物?) or hashiarai (箸洗い?).
- hassun (八寸?): a tray of titbits from mountain and sea that the guests serve themselves to and accompanies the round of saké (rice wine) shared by host and guests. The name derives from the size of the tray.
- yutō (湯桶?): pitcher of hot water having slightly browned rice in it, which the guests serve to themselves.
- kōnomono (香の物?): pickles that accompany the yutō.
Extra items that may be added to the menu are generally referred to as shiizakana (強い肴?), and these attend further rounds of sake. Because the host leaves them with the first guest, they are also referred to as azukebachi (預鉢?, lit. "bowl left in another's care").
Courses are served in small servings in individual dishes. Each diner has a small lacquered tray to him- or herself; very important people may be provided their own low, lacquered table or several small tables.
Because cha-kaiseki generally follows traditional eating habits in Japan, meat dishes are rare.
Read more about this topic: Japanese Tea Ceremony