When it comes to Japanese fine dining, “kaiseki” and “omakase" are two terms that you'll often hear. Here's a look at these two traditional Japanese cuisines.
Kaiseki, or more accurately kaiseki-ryouri, is a meal comprising of a series of dishes served in a specific order, usually with a minimum of 9 dishes, but depending on the price point, could be as many as fifteen dishes.
The key to the kaiseki experience is seasonality. Not only are the ingredients chosen so they are at their peak freshness, but the season is considered even when choosing the plates to present them on (see our article on Moritsuke: The Art of Japanese Plating) as well as the garnishes. While there are many courses in a kaiseki experience, be sure to pay attention for the hassun (八寸), usually the second or third dish, which centers the seasonal theme for the rest of meal.
Omakase, on the other hand, is in some ways the opposite of kaiseki although they still retain much in common. Omakase is a dining experience where you give total reign to the chef, and is commonly a sushi meal. Like kaiseki, omakase centers around seasonality, with the idea of serving food while at its best. After the first dish, the chef judges your reaction, talks with you, and chooses what they feel is appropriate for your next plate. Occasionally you will see a limited number of plates in an omakase setting, but a true omakase experience will go on until you are satisfied, with each plate and piece being chosen just for you by the chef.
If kaiseki is the designer fashion of the Japanese food world, then omakase is like having a bespoke experience created just for you. Both will provide an delicious and seasonal dining experience, so now it's just a matter of deciding which is right for you!
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!