Serving food in the tea room

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When it comes to food in the tea room, I do not like to serve japanese dishes here in southern Germany. Seasonality and regional ingredients are important in Japan, too, so flying miso from East Asia to Europe feels inappropriate. The sea being as far as 500 kms, sea food is also not readily available. So, I normally serve things one would expect for a simple meal here, with some further considerations. Of course the season is important, too.

So, here comes a typical winter meal for the shoza:

– Bread (instead of rice; ideally one which doesn’t crumble to much), perhaps with some butter on it

– Some simple cheese, not too mature (the taste would be too overwhelming)

– Pickles, most often gherkins

– A soup, vegetable stock with some root vegetable, perhaps some mild herbs

This can be eaten in some reasonable amount of time.

In summer I would prefer fresh vegetables or perhaps even some fruit. The matter if to serve local wine (as an equivalent to saké) or no alcohol at all depends on one’s own opinion.

So, what do You serve in Your tea rooms?

  • Elmar
    This will be a fascinating thread. I have never done the “first half” of a gathering (fire and food), but always started from the naka-dachi with koicha tsuzuki usucha, or just usucha.
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As a reference this link gives the standard Urasenke kaiseki format as:

  1. Tray with: Miso Soup, Rice and Mukozuke. The Mukozuke is eaten after first sake serving.
  2. Sake
  3. Second serving of rice and soup
  4. Nimono, main dish
  5. Sake
  6. Yakimono
  7. Azukebachi (optional)
  8. Teishu shoban
  9. Hashi-arai / Koisuimono
  10. Hassun with sake, yamamono and uminomono
  11. Oyu and Konomono

Teacher

Chanoyu is an art with centuries of history and tradition. When learning this I believe that the student will greatly benefit from learning the “proper” way. So that the student can understand how it is practiced in it’s natural environment, and start their own adaptation from a solid foundation in the tradition.

So looking at the question from a teaching perspective I usually serve very traditional kaiseki. To make it more manageable to host chaji I have instead reduced the number of dishes, with the intention of gradually adding them back in as the group becomes more skilled at hosting chaji.

Our current format is:

  1. Serve initial tray with rice, miso and mukozuke (usually sashimi)
  2. Serve sake
  3. Short break for the host
  4. Serve hassun (something from the ocean and something from the mountain) and sake

This format can rather easily be done by a host with out any help in the mizuya.

Student

Looking at the problem not from a teaching perspective I do enjoy when there are modifications to the standard kaiseki setup. From personal experience I find that deviating too much from the standard format isn’t good either.

I attended a chaji in Paris that I think was a very good example of a chaji that deviated, but not too far.

  1. Initial tray with rice, borscht (polish soup), and a three cheeses
  2. Red wine
  3. More rice and soup
  4. Grilled vegetables
  5. Hot water
  6. Pickles

This format was in my mind perfect. It reflected the hosts Polish ancestry with the soup, and the current location through wine and cheese. But there was never any doubt that it was still following the kaiseki format. In any other context you would probably not have served rice with either borscht or cheese, but doing so helps ground the meal in the tradition of kaiseki.

The following is an  example of a kaiseki meal from a chaji I hosted a decade ago. Once the event was done both the host and the guest felt that there was too much deviation, and we never managed to capture the kaiseki feeling with this meal:

  1. Tray with bread/foccacia, cheeses, olives and olive oil
  2. Red Wine
  3. The grilled dish / main dish was roast beef with a bit of sauce, mushroom and asparges
  4.  Hassun was done with a lighter white wine (other details of hassun is not written down)
  5. Main sweet served after kaiseki was a chocolate cake

Final thoughts

In a teaching environment I would recommend that you stay true to the proper form, and do at most one deviation. As a practitioner and in serving your own guest outside of teaching I think you should experiment, but I would caution against going straying too far.

Also keep in mind that your guest might find a proper kaiseki meal more exciting than food based on local traditions because they experience the latter more often.

 

 

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Gerhard,

 

You raised a very interesting question here.

I do not know of an answer. I do not think it exists one. Each of us are unique, tea is for everyone, not everyone is for tea, the dogma is good but too much is bad, the lack of dogma is good but too much is bad. Driven by this antagonistic positions, which in the end meet somewhere on an ever floating point, it is presumptuous to take a sustainable solid position in answer to your question.

I understand your criteria of decency when it comes to the difficulty and inappropriateness of importing foods and drinks which are not a local friend so to speak. In this sense, I would continue your menu and serve beer. Would go perfectly well with the rest of the menu. I guess green tea also does not grow well locally. Why make an exception to this one. The tea ceremony is about something, the spirit of which may, if carefully addressed, be created or found in a lot of other ritualistic traditions. Why select a form, which is 100% Japanese and devour its dressing to fit it in a different culture? Why not find  a similar thing in that culture?

Saying this, I am familiar with the difficulty and at times the vulgarity of trying to implement 100% something which is not really “us” as anthropological entities. A dynamic process. And in this process, small transformations take place. The ceremony adapts to time, space, culture. This is good. How much is too much? How much is not enough? I will not be able to answer these things.

On my end, I try to stay as close I can to the Japanese way. To understand what means to be Japanese, in order to understand how this ceremony is viewed through the eyes of its creators. When that is clear, changes come naturally, or so I guess. A sculptor may come back in time and make changes to his masterpiece to allow his current feelings to be expressed. The public no. When the public touches the sculpture, it becomes something else. It is vulgar. Yet something new may appear, maybe something stronger than the original piece of art. It is just something else.

In trying to stay on the Japanese side, I become myself ridiculous, as, as you say, I need to compromise when it comes to the freshness, quality and availability of food, drinks, dogu, chashitsu, roji, etc.

So, a good questions you asked I say. Keep practicing. That matters. And thanks for the question. It made me stop and reflect for a moment

Gabriel

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I do not think that practicing chanoyu is (or should be) an attempt to “become” Japanese, just as doing zazen or iaido is not “becoming” Japanese.  For me, chaonyu is a practice that shapes a certain psychosphere and since it does evoke a feeling of being in 1600’s Japan, and the manners, etc. are of Japan (seiza, rei, kimono, etc.), things should not jar against that ambiance, or, as Gabriel says, one should instead find a similar practice within one’s own culture.  I also try to stay as close to a model that would not offend a purist because I find that the practice of chanoyu is an efficient “do-zen” (moving zen, as opposed to sitting zen) that appeals to me.  Nowadays, with the global economy, Japanese-like food can be prepared almost anywhere in the industrialized world, and doing so, especially when far from Japan, will help the guests move out of the everyday into the experience, perhaps even better than if actually in Japan, since the contrast is more extreme.

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I agree with you, Gabriel, I wasn’t talking about food alone, but to what extend you alter the models to fit the circumstances.

I do not think my chanoyu is about giving the authentic japanese impression and also not the impression of 16th century Japan. A guest at a tea ceremony in 16th century Japan wasn’t impressed by the japanese-ness of the surroundings, since he grew up with them. What he saw was a humble, honest ritual between guest and host, kept to the most simple fittings since basically, and yes, I agree with you, Elmar, to improve or enable a state of samadhi in motion-meditation. Any worldly overdoings would disturb the mind-set. But if I use the same tools as they did then, I only get curiosity, guests struck by exotizism, overwhelmed or impressed by the japanese-ness of all. I don’t think this is helpful for their understanding of samadhi. I want them to see the utensils, taste the food, and forget about them the next moment. Simple food which they are accustomed to are best for this task, I think. Of course, experienced tea men will have no problem with „everything purely japanese“, but I rarely have them in my tea room. Most of my guests are friends, familiar with what I do, but no experts.

But why use chanoyu, which will always have something japanese in it? For two reasons.

The first is, just as Elmar described it, it appeals to me. The second reason is, just as Gabriel wrote, it is about a balance. For me, to feel Japan in tea is no problem, but I want a local taste in it, too.

So, perhaps it is a question of what kind of guests do you have and what impression do you want them to have?

Gerhard

 

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I feel that there is a parallel with the Japanese martial arts here.  We who train in such dress in keiko-gi, use Japanese terms for techniques, etc., bow and so forth.  But most sane people realize that we as Westerners are not, and will never become, Japanese.  Nevertheless, it remains a Japanese art.  It would be different if it were to be westernized, like Krav-Maga for instance.  Karate-do and Krav-Maga both engage in formalized training for hand-to-hand combat, but one does not call one by the other’s name, nor insist that they are equivalent in all aspects, even if they result in the same amount of technical self-defense expertise.  If one enters a karate dojo, one has to accept that it is a Japanese art, and many beginners and visitors are in fact taken by the esotericism of it all.  So I would argue that entering a chashitsu, no matter how constructed, means that we are in fact practicing a Japanese art, and those who are unfamiliar with it should be intrigued and curious, and we as hosts can satisfy that with a whole and giving heart.  And as I mentioned, with the global economy, who has not eaten at a Japanese restaurant?  One has to simply adjust the kaiseki to more familiar items common to such venues, especially since even naive guests will expect “Japanese stuff” – why else come to a “tea Ceremony”?

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I do not know if this answer pops up at the right place, I am referring to the answer posted by Marius. There was no button “add comment” below it.

 

Dear Marius, I agree with you, the standard format given is a bit to much for wabi-cha, perhaps, so I would have reduced it just like you did, you keep it simple. Although, I would alter the ingredients. What your hôte parisien did is more like the thing I had in mind: It is what one would expect when one is in France, with a little personal insertion, which is nice. I also see why the kaiseki you described last was too much: It is not in the spirit of wabi, excellent dishes, but just too much.

 

In Sadler there is a story about Rikyû and his son Dôan. Rikyû was invited to tea on a snowy day. In the garden he saw his son with winter clothes digging up vegetables, but in the tea room he was served a broth of vegetables and fish from another place, so he was disappointed.

If I, being in the middle of Europe, would serve some food from the east of Asia, wouldn’t that be just the same? Personally, I have settled for a “yes”, so the last weeks a meal would have consisted of a

vegetable broth with some “Grießnockerl” (dumplings made of semolina),

bread and cheese

fried asparagus (although not for long, the end of the season is normally St. John’s on june 24th, this year a bit earlier).

 

 

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