There are big meals, and then there are feasts. The evening meal served at Nakayasu Ryokan in Kanazawa was a feast. A sumptuous feast. No question about it.
There was ritual involved in every element of the feast. Firstly, the meal was served in my bedroom, not in a separate dining room, and was private for me. This entailed my bedding of a tatami mat, futon-style mattress and duvet being packed away into my wardrobe, and replaced by a low, wooden table and several zaisu (a Japanese chair with no legs but a supported back rest).
A knock on my door sounded the arrival of the food, served by a procession of young women, all identically dressed in matching kimonos. And it didn’t stop. As soon as one young woman delicately put down the dish she was carrying on the table top and retired, another one would take her place carrying another dish; and then another; and then another. I had once been in a rodízio steakhouse restaurant in Rio where they continued to serve you until you displayed a red token to bring a halt, but here there was no way to say ‘stop’. The plates of food just kept coming; the meal expanding until it reached frankly gargantuan proportions.
The first night that I had this meal, the sight of so much food was almost off-putting; I didn’t think that I could begin to do justice to such a quantity of food, and it made me feel guilty that I might have to leave so much to go to waste. However, by the second night, and with a similar-sized feast appearing, I was beginning to overcome my scruples and tuck in heartily; and, by the third night, I was setting into the meal with such gusto that my mind was beginning to speculate about the possibility of seconds!
The entire presentation of the meal was a work of art. The food was served on an assortment of beautiful blue and white porcelain plates, and the layout of each dish precise and delicate.
And the food itself was amazing! As fresh and as tasty as anything I have ever eaten. I am no aficionado regarding Japanese cuisine and there were plenty of dishes that I could scarcely identify as being either animal, vegetable or mineral, let alone give a name to, but there was tasty tempura, the most exquisite sashimi with fresh tuna and salmon, which simply melted in the mouth, and a bubbling hotpot, where it was possible to cook thin strips of beef at the table.
At the end of proceedings, when my eyes were still devouring but my stomach was pleading for mercy, the same band of young women were equally efficient at quietly removing all the plates, and returning my room to a place of rest rather than one for repast, leaving me wondering if the last couple of hours had been nothing more than a huge, gluttonous dream.
Only a quiet, lady-like belch told me otherwise.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny tries to brush over a few excess calories.