Kyoto: A City Steeped in Umami Tradition

March 2006

The entrance to the 100th Kyoto Cuisine Grand Exhibition

  • REPORT: The 100th Kyoto Cuisine Grand Exhibition

    Visitors were given a taste of umami at the 100th Kyoto Cuisine Grand Exhibition, a showcase of all that is uniquely fascinating about the cuisine of Japan's ancient capital held on 10 and 11 December 2005 in the city's International Exhibition Hall.

    A Tradition of Culinary Excellence

    Kyoto cuisine, or kyo-ryori in Japanese, is renowned throughout Japan for its exacting methods of preparation and painstakingly beautiful presentation. It is typified by kaiseki style menus, where a number of artistically arranged, small dishes are presented to the diner, often in specially made and intricately designed serving dishes. Examples of Kyoto style cuisine include cha-kaiseki, which is a light meal served during the tea ceremony, and the Buddhist vegetarian cuisine known as shojin ryori. Typical ingredients include tofu and locally produced vegetables, as well as dashi, the stock that forms the basis of so much of Japanese cooking, and which is full of the umami taste.

    A Feast of Information

    This annual celebration of Kyoto cuisine is organized by the Kyo-Ryori Association, which was established 260 years ago, and is dedicated to preserving the traditions and heightening awareness of this uniquely beautiful style of cookery. The special commemorative exhibition held in 2005 was twice as big as those held in previous years, with around 12,000 visitors attending over the two days. They were able to enjoy a vast array of demonstrations, exhibits, lectures and classes, all aimed at furthering understanding of Kyoto cuisine.

    These included cookery demonstrations by no fewer than 101 long established and highly regarded restaurants specialising in Kyoto cuisine, an informative exhibition organized by the Japanese Culinary Academy, which is an organization set up with the aim of maintaining standards of Japanese cuisine worldwide, and exhibits speculating on possible future development of food culture. In addition to all this, there were displays by experts in the beautiful Japanese pottery in which Kyoto cuisine is often served, as well as lectures on Japanese cuisine and Kyoto cuisine cookery classes, all of which added up to provide a varied and packed itinerary for visitors.

    The Role of Umami

    The Umami Information Center also organized an exhibit as part of section of the event dealing with the future of food culture. The display provided information on the increase in popularity of umami around the world, and was targeted at chefs and cookery school students, as well as anyone with an interest in food and cooking. It featured information panels showing the levels of umami present in various foods, including dashi and soup, as well as information on kombu (kelp), the indispensable dashi ingredient that has higher levels of umami-providing glutamate than any other food. Visitors to the booth were also given a chance to sample some kombu dashi for themselves. The overall aim was to allow people, through the information provided as well as the tasting experience, to gain a deeper understanding of and closer affinity with umami.

    Around 1,200 people visited the booth over the course of the two days, including a number of chefs from well-known Japanese restaurants in Kyoto and beyond, and the hope is that these culinary 'opinion leaders' will spread the word about the fifth taste, and the indispensable role it plays in the traditional cuisine of Kyoto.

    Kyo-Ryori Association (Japanese only)

  • The entrance to the 100th Kyoto Cuisine Grand Exhibition

    Japanese chefs take a keen interest in the Umami Information Center booth

    A display of beautifully presented Kyoto cuisin

  • Japanese chefs take a keen interest in the Umami Information Center booth

    A display of beautifully presented Kyoto cuisin