From the northern Sea of Okhotsk, the mountainous landscapes and paddy fields across the archipelago, to the southern subtropical islands of Okinawa, Japan is a country blessed with a bounty of natural products that change with the seasons. The gastronomy of Japan is a form of art, the flavors and ingredients of each region portraying the indigenous culture particular to that area, yet all consistent with one theme; appreciation of nature’s gifts and the seasons. Located in four of Japan’s most historically and culturally rich cities, The Ritz-Carlton hotels provide a gastronomic journey that broadens understanding of the essence of Japanese cuisine and culture.
Starting the journey in Tokyo, the heart of Japan, chefs at The Ritz-Carlton have select fishermen at Tsukiji fish market that the hotel’s chefs work with on a daily basis. Chef Nomura, the sushi chef de cuisine, contacts the fishermen for information on their latest catch and depending on the any special event or menus planned for later in the day, the chefs will decide which fish to select daily ensureing that only the freshest possible catch is served direct from the seas of Japan.
At the Japanese restaurant Hinokizaka, the recommended Japanese sake to match the dishes is Sawanoi, a sake brand from Ozawa Shuzo brewery which has a long history dating back to 1702. Sawanoi is brewed in west Tokyo where there are vast mountains, rich landscapes and clean spring water. Surprisingly for many, Tokyo is not just a futuristic, neon-lit city, but has a beautiful, serene countryside just a half-hour train ride away. Sake is brewed through a multiple parallel fermentation process of rice that has not changed over the centuries, and which reflects the meticulous craftsmanship of Hinokizaka’s select sake brewers. Our sake sommelier shares the story of each sake with guests during tasting sessions.
The second largest metropolis in Japan, the vibrant city of Osaka has been long known as the “nation’s kitchen” for its history as a prosperous merchant city and the center of Japan’s rice trade. The development of a distinct ‘Osakan’ cuisine has resulted in a large variety of places to eat in the city. Sushi served at the Japanese restaurant Hanagatami is an example of uncompromising devotion to perfection, not only in the choice of fresh fish but also the rice. Chosen by a blind tasting of ten different kinds of rice by the sushi masters of the restaurant is the Komai rice from Hinogun Nishinan, a small town in Tottori prefecture, where the soil is fertile, the water pure and exposure to a wide range of temperatures throughout the day creates an environment ideal for rice cultivation. The hotel has a partnershop a single rice farmer in Hinogun Nichinan for one of his paddy fields to be designated specifically for the hotel and all rice served at Hanagatami restaurant comes from this particular rice paddy.
As an accompaniment, the indispensable condiment soy sauce is brewed in Kishu Yuasa, Wakayama prefecture where authentic soy sauce was originally produced. Kishu Yuasa soy sauce is famous for its thickness and strong yet delicate taste that does not overpower but complements the natural flavor of sushi. The hotel has created an original-blend soy sauce, which is not available on the market outside of the hotel, and the soy sauce is used in a variety of dishes.
Next stop, Kyoto, where Chef Miura at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto focuses on the subtle beauty of Kyoto as a theme for his culinary art. His signature dish, the Karesansui (dry landscape garden) and Otsukuri (fresh raw fish), represents the famous Zen rock gardens of Kyoto. The Zen temple is expressed by the plate, the white sand in the garden is created with crushed ice, and the famous Horaisan mountain is portrayed with arched ice. The Karesansui garden symbolizes the sea through the use of rocks and patterns in the sand of rippling water. Similarly, his artistic creations bring out the vivid colors and natural flavors of fresh fish and seasonal vegetables as seasonal influences are crucial in completing the work of art. In the summertime, fresh hamo (daggertooth pike conger sea eel) and katsuo (skipjack tuna) are selected from all over Japan; otsukuri (sashimi) is served with the chef’s special plum sauce, a recipe which is a close guarded secret.
This perfect pairing is served in the Japanese restaurant Mizuki, with a private-label sake served only at The Ritz-Carlton. The Chefs of the hotel went on a journey in the summer of 2015 to develop the hotel’s sake, planting rice in Uji, the southern part of Kyoto and using the same rice from the paddies to collaborate with a sake brewery in Fushimi to brew sake exclusively for guests of Mizuki. The bottle design was also created by the Kyoto team, and the slightly sour taste has gained popularity as an aperitif.
Arriving on the island of Okinawa, known for the vibrancy and rich colours of the breathtaking landscape, unique architectural deisgn of Shuri castle dating back to the Ryukyu kingdom, The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa’s masterpiece is Chef Visani’s Tiramisu – an artwork that expresses the treasured nature and vibrancy of the islands of Okinawa. The chocolate expresses the soil, and the mint grown inside the property, expresses the deep green nature of Yambaru, the forested northern area of the island.
For everyone that visits Okinawa, the indigenous Awamori cannot be missed. At Gusuku, a dedicated Awamori Sensei (master) guides guests through the story of Awamori with an Awamori tasting set, “Shimahnu-Numikurabi”, which includes a 20-year limited edition named “Kaneyama” from Yamakawa brewery in Okinawa, with which the hotel has developed a unique relationship since the opening of the resort. The best pairing for the Awamori is the Okinawa delicacy Agu-pork Shabu Shabu, also sourced from a local farm, called Kin-Agu, with its distinctive earthy flavor. This special kind of pork needs to meet strict criteria, including Ryukyu-resident Agu-pork pedigree being raised only in Okinawa.