For the record, we have had a couple of extremely wow-inducing kaiseki meals at ryokan. The most recent was dinner at Notoya Ryokan, in the Taisho-era onsen resort of Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata Prefecture. It was mid-December and the meal was built around local game and river fish. It followed the kaiseki pattern but the flavors seemed fresher and more interesting than those in our Kyoto kaiseki experience, the meal overall, more relaxed. Part of this was owing to the delightful personality of the woman who served us: she mothered us from the moment we walked in until we left two days later and explained everything about the food she presented us with. But it occurs to me that the little ryokan in the hills of Yamagata, a region not especially known for haute cuisine, was freer to experiment and to focus on flavor and hospitality since it didn’t have to bear the burden of all that Kyoto culinary tradition.
But don’t worry: we didn’t starve in Kyoto. Breakfast the next morning at the Nissho-besso was delightful: tofu stew and fresh vegetables, several kinds of pickled vegetables, dried fish. We also made several wonderful discoveries over the next few days, from simple meals in local izakaya to our first obanzai ryori meals. And we haven’t given up on kaiseki. Someday I really would like to try one of those lavish $500 meals overlooking a Kyoto garden. But that’s a few meals from now.
For information about Notoya Ryokan, click here.