Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Japanese Wedding Banquet

Some friends of mine got married recently, and their wedding reception was a traditional Japanese banquet, course after course of beautiful little dishes arranged in beautiful plates and bowls, set one after another on the black lacquer fan-shaped tray placed in front of each guest. The whole time, people were making speeches and toasts, there was a slide show, the bride and groom left to change from Japanese wedding kimono into Western-style white dress and tuxedo, and everyone was taking photos. It was a wonderful evening and lots of fun, but with so many distractions, no one at my table actually ate every course. However, I did manage to take photos of each dish as it arrived, and since they were helpfully described in both Japanese and English on a menu card, I can even tell you what each of them was.
To start, on the crane-shaped plate (cranes are lucky, which is why there were also paper origami cranes scattered on the tablecloth), we have a selection of bite-sized appetizers. Clockwise from the top left are: salmon with cheese, fried bread with shrimp paste, sushi with salmon and squid, kelp roll with boiled herring, boiled kelp with fish roe, and boiled shrimp with egg yolk. In the goblet was boiled top shell with herring roe. I only ate the salmon with cheese and the kelp ones. These are the types of very strongly flavored (sweet and salty) foods prepared for the traditional Japanese New Year trays, and I've had them before. A little goes a long way.
Next: Clear soup with shrimp cake. I didn't eat it so I can't tell you how it tasted, but it was certainly pretty.

Next was sashimi: sea bream, bluefin tuna, and squid. I love the carrot curl - I have to learn how to make those.

One of the tenets of Japanese cooking is that a meal must include multiple cooking techniques. After the soup and the raw dish, it was time for a boiled dish, in this case vegetables. From the bottom right, that's a taro, a shiitake mushroom, green peas, and a carrot on top of a chunk of (yay!) pumpkin. They were slightly sweetened, boiled no doubt in the Japanese standard broth of kelp, fish flakes, mirin, sake, and soy sauce.
A grilled dish followed: the wonderfully named fish Kinki (according to the English menu, it's called Thornhead in English, which sounds like a character out of Tolkien). The citrus next to it is yuzu, the fragrant Japanese citron. It had been cooked as well. The pink stick is pickled ginger. The fish was glazed with sweet miso and it was unctuous and delicious.

This was followed by a refreshing vinegar dish, pickled cucumbers and radish sliced paper-thin and rolled around crab meat. Since I don't have much to say about this one, let me comment here that for me, loving china as I do, the succession of dishes was even more exciting for the variety of plates and bowls than for the food itself. Look at this gorgeous bowl - shaped like a flower, red and white stripes, gold decorations - swoon. And they just kept on coming ...

This is a mysterious steamed egg custard. Usually these have vegetables or shrimp in them, but according to the menu, this one contained a turnip cake. The person next to me told me it might have meat in it, but she wasn't sure. I didn't eat it, but it was very pretty.

The last course is always rice and miso soup. The rice was filled with minced vegetables and shrimp and wrapped in a thin omelet, tied with a green onion. The soup was red miso (red and white are lucky colors).

The first dessert course was fruit and Champagne. The melon, which may or may not have cost $100, was actually amazingly sweet and moist and might even have been worth an exorbitant price. Rather than being firm-fleshed like a normal honeydew, the texture was closer to that of a perfectly ripe peach, and it tasted like nectar. The grapes had been de-seeded by hand - there was a little hole in one end. The white fruit was Japanese pear.

And of course, you can't have a wedding without wedding cake. Rather than a towering wedding cake, which the bride and groom cut together as their first action as a married couple (which has become the tradition for modern Japanese weddings), this couple performed the much older tradition of breaking open a cask of sake with a mallet as their first act together. The cake was served in a very civilized manner, already cut, and was the favorite Japanese cake of all time, white sponge cake with barely sweetened whipped cream and large pieces of strawberry.
All in all, it was a marvelous feast and a wonderful wedding. Omedetou gozaimasu!

1 comment:

  1. Mouth watering dishes, I really love japanese authentic foods. Thanks for sharing!

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