In kaiseki, the fourth course is usually a fish. Sometimes a grilled fish – typically ayu – is served but more often times than not, it will be sashimi. Japanese cuisine is seasonal and plating reflects the seasons as well.
From a summer sashimi, a breakdown of the fish and garnishes:
The fish from left to right: Katsuo bonito, suzuki Japanese sea bass, aji mackerel.
— The katsuo is resting on a green shiso leaf.
— The net like transparent piece on top of the suzuki is a thinly sliced pretty daikon.
— A piece of carrot and radish are hanging out on top of the aji.
— The white mound is grated shouga ginger. The green mound is grated wasabi.
— The flower in the middle is hana hojiso perilla blossom. Perilla is shiso. Or lovingly nicknamed the cilantro of Japan as it has a distinct fragrance.
How to eat
- Pour a little bit of soy sauce into the soy sauce saucer if the chef serves it to you with the sashimi.
- Start with the light fish to the more aromatic fish — seasoned sushi eaters will immediately know the order but sometimes we forget. Don’t fret, there’s a simple trick. The darker the fish, the more fish you will taste. In August and September, the katsuo should be eaten before the aji*
- Summer katsuo is eaten with wasabi, suzuki with wasabi, aji with either wasabi or ginger. Because there are two garnishes to put in the soy sauce, I do not place either in the saucer, take a little from the mound with my chopstick, place it on top of the fish, fold the sashimi piece in half so the wasabi or ginger do not float into the soy sauce saucer, lightly dip into the soy sauce and eat.
What to do with the garnishes
- Daikon on top of the suzuki to be consumed.
- Shiso leaf that comes with the katsuo is edible but, kaiseki etiquette dictates certain types of garnishes like shiso** or julienned raw daikon radish that accompany akami red sashimi is to be left uneaten.
- Carrots and radish with the aji should be eaten.
- The flower, hana hojiso, is edible. It should be held upright with your hand over the soy sauce saucer, flower buds scraped in.
When written out, eating sashimi during a kaiseki meal sounds complex but it’s quite simple:
— eat the fish in order from light to dark
— use wasabi with light fish, ginger with the dark
— eat the garnishes after each type of fish as palate cleansers
— don’t eat green or purple leaves or thin slices of daikon radish that’s lying underneath dark fish
And if you don’t know what to do with a garnish or how to eat something: ask. Or eat it after everything else is consumed. At the end of the day, chefs don’t really care about etiquette, they want their patrons to enjoy their meals.
Most importantly: have fun! Dining is a leisure activity and shouldn’t be stressful!
*More on katsuo in a separate post — I had to separate katsuo into its own as the explanations got too long.
**There are two types of shiso leaves. The green one is called: oba (pronounced ōba — with an elongated ‘o’) and the purple one is called shiso.