In Japan, if you want to thank someone for cooking you dinner, or for treating you to a meal in a restaurant, you say:
御馳走さまでした go-chisou-sama deshita—that was a feast!
On Sunday evening we stayed in a hotel in Arima Onsen, a spa resort in the mountains above the city of Kobe. The hotel stay (which was very expensive, but that’s another story) included use of the bath facilities as well as dinner and breakfast. And dinner was indeed a feast. Over the course of several hours, maybe a dozen dishes were brought to the table, with probably hundreds of different exotic ingredients; all sorts of varieties of mountain vegetables, mushrooms, fish, meat, fruit, flowers and leaves, and so on.
There was a menu with a short description of each of the courses, but I couldn’t read most of it. However the overall theme was spring happiness, suggested by various pink items as well as seasonal ingredients.
The first course consisted of six individual servings of seasonal ingredients, presented in six bowls of different colours and shapes on a lacquered tray, and accompanied by a cup of plum wine.
In the centre, rear dish you can see a little leaf. This is kinome, the leaf of the sanshou or Japanese pepper tree, with a striking and delicious flavour. This ingredient made further appearances accompanying a fish dish and a steak dish later in the meal.
We had a fish course. The fish is called gashira, which is some kind of rockfish or lionfish. Much of the time, it’s not useful to try to find out the English name for what you are eating; if it’s not part of western food culture, there may not be an English name for it, and even if the species has an English name that you’ve never heard of, you will be none the wiser.
Next up was a sashimi course, with Ise-ebi as the centrepiece. I had a very disturbing experience with Ise-ebi many years ago; suffice to say that I double-checked to make sure that this one was dead when it was served to us as food.
I didn’t take photos of all the courses – for example there was a nabe course, where you cook the meat and vegetables yourself in a pot of boiling liquid. This was the course I least enjoyed: the bowl of ponzu dipping sauce provided had such a strong citrus flavour that it really overwhelmed all the other flavours.
Next we had some sirloin steak with shimeji mushrooms and vegetables. The two cubes of sirloin steak were incredibly marbled and tender, nothing like western beef. Note the western-style plate for this course, and the little shanshou leaf in the brown dish. The black stems are some kind of candied mountain vegetable.
This course was also cooked on your own personal hot plate, so there was no need to ask how you want your steak done – you just eat it when it’s ready.
I had eaten half the tempura course before I remembered to take a picture. But I was interested to see a lily or hosta leaf presented as food.
The next course mixed sweet and savoury in an interesting way: an orange with prawns, plump fish eggs and radish. Absolutely delicious.
The miso soup was very good, made with red miso, rich and deep in flavour. The fish is ainame, which is apparently “fat greenling” in English.
Finally, dessert: cheesecake with ice cream.
ご馳走さまでした！ go-chisou-sama deshita!