What is Kaiseki-Ryōri?

In Japanese food culture, there are 2 types of meals called kaiseki-ryōri, 懐石料理 and 会席料理, they are homonyms. Here, you will learn about each of their differences, and their characteristics.

What is懐石料理?

Kaiseki-ryōri is a traditional multi course Japanese meal that is  served at official tea ceremony situations from the host to guest.

Kaiseki is known as an old tradition from Zen Buddhism, the direct meaning is heated serpentinite stone or pumice stone. Originally, it is said that monks put these stones near their stomachs to ward of hunger pains. Nowadays, it is usually served as a form of hospitality to prepare the stomach before drinking rich tasting tea.

Differences between懐石料理 and 会席料理

They are frequently confused each other because they have same pronunciations. In 懐石料理, rice and soup are served at the first part of the course in order to better enjoy tea. On the other hand, in 会席料理, they are served at the last part of the course in order to better enjoy alcoholic drinks. In other words, the former one is to enjoy tea, and the latter is to enjoy alcohol.  

And also会席料理 has its origin in Honzen-Ryōri style cuisine.

To avoid confusion, sometimes 懐石料理 is referred to as cha-kaiseki in order to distinguish the difference. .

Characteristics of 懐石料理

People usually think that 懐石料理 is more gorgeous because people serve various small dishes. However, originally it was served in the ichi-ju-sannsai style which contains rice, soup, pickled vegetables, raw fish/meat, a simmered dish, and a baked fish/meat dish.

The soup that is served in the first part is called Hashi-arai, literally means “chopstick washing”. The soup is also served with a lid that is later used as a serving plate.


懐石料理 is a style of Japanese cuisine used to enjoy tea, and 会席料理 is another style of Japanese “kaiseki-ryori” where you can enjoy alcohol. Although originally a simple ichi-ju-sansai style, now people enjoy it served with many small dishes. This style of cuisine is worth knowing because it is a basic style of Japanese cuisine.

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