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BATTLE OF THE KYO KAISEKI FIRST CLASS MEALS: Singapore Airlines vs. Japan Airlines

BATTLE OF THE KYO KAISEKI FIRST CLASS MEALS: Singapore Airlines vs. Japan Airlines

Old Apr 18, 19, 11:45 am
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BATTLE OF THE KYO KAISEKI FIRST CLASS MEALS: Singapore Airlines vs. Japan Airlines

After five trips to Japan, I was longing to visit when her famed cherry blossoms where transforming the country reminding us of the joy and love of spring. Four years ago, I organized a group of friends and family to hike up Mt. Fuji (HIKING ASIA: Mt Fuji and the Great Wall with some SQ First and assorted fun). My nephew came with us on that trip which must have planted a seed. Since our trip he’s been studying Japanese and studying about Japan. Now four years later he is spending his junior year abroad from UC Santa Cruz in Tokyo.


Four years ago, our group celebrates the sunrise at the top of Mt. Fuji.

So when Colin announced that he would be living in Japan, I told his parents that they needed to visit. And the perfect time would be during the Sakura festival, cherry blossom season. We pulled out our crystal ball and did our best to choose likely dates when we would see the blooming happen in front of us.

I’ve written a variety of trip reports on both Singapore First Class and Japan Airlines. Both are top notch airlines that have lead the industry with their hard and soft products. I booked my outbound flight on SQ because I love their Suites on their A380. Then at the end of the trip, JAL’s nonstop from Haneda back to SFO is a great way to wrap up the vacation.

So rather than describe my wonderful experiences on these amazing carriers, my interest was their Kyo Kaiseki meal they offer to their First Class passengers. It is one of the most amazing experiences offered at 39,000 feet. With the focus of seasonality and freshness, it is Japan’s version of haute cuisine.

Both SQ and JAL offer the ability to prebook the Kyo Kaiseki meal before you fly. Without an advanced reservation, I was once told on JAL that they only had western meals left once they arrived at my seat. HORROR!! The result was I was stuck with caviar and filet mignon. Not a bad alternative but I was disappointed.

So I booked my tickets and pre-ordered my Japanese meals. When I was choosing my seat on the Singapore LAX-NRT flight, I was shocked to see that there was only one row of four seats. WHAT?!?! I had committed a total rookie mistake; I hadn’t checked the aircraft which had been replaced with a 777 months prior. The SQ First seat on the 777 is in a different league from their A380 suite whether it’s the new or old version. Now at this point, the non-frequent flyer is rolling their eyes and saying “REALLY?!?! THESE ARE YOUR PROBLEMS?!?!?!” My response is “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

So the battle begins. First we will look at the Kyo Kaiseki meal on Singapore Airlines. Then we will examine Japan Airlines’ offering. Finally I will show an actual non-airline Kyo Kaiseki meal we enjoyed in Kyoto’s Gion area.

ROUND 1: Singapore Airlines “Book The Cook” Kyo Kaiseki Japanese Meal


Let the games begin! SQ started me with some Krug and warm nuts


Singapore Airline First Class Kyo Kaiseki menu


Sakizuke and Mukōzuke

The festivities always begin with the Sakizuke, the Japanese version of an amuse bouche. Japanese food is often not just about taste but also about texture and “mouth feel”. The squid dish addressed both of these beautifully. Next the snow crab and tofu gave an entirely different experience than the first. And then the smooth mushrooms finished it off on yet another different note. I really enjoyed all three small bites.

For the Mukōzuke, a seasonal sashimi, the seabream was tasty and beautifully presented in an interesting ceramic with lid. I loved opening up the gift to see the present inside.


Oshinogi

Next came the Oshinogi which is designed to help the diner be “less hungry” at the beginning of a long meal. Hunger isn’t really an issue with a multi-course meal. The filling green tea noodles came with squid and sea urchin and condiments. It was flavorful and did a good cutting my hunger.


Futamono

A lighter course of Futamono, meaning lidded dish, arrived and had no lid. Usually this course is a soup but instead the SQ chef offered a less standard beef filet and asparagus. It had nice flavor and also helped me along the “less hungry” journey.


Yakimono, Konomono, and Tome-Wan dishes

This was all building up to the Yakimono course of grilled seasonal fish with a broiled black cod with miso and also a delicious teriyaki chicken. Also served on the tray was the Konomono course introduces seasonal pickled vegetables and the Tome-Wan course features a vegetable or miso soup served with rice. I followed the order and ate the large proteins first and then finished up with the soup. It was flavorful and interesting for my western tastebuds.

The final course, Mizugashi, was a Japanese dessert of sesame cream with green tea. I am not a big sweets guy so I opted instead for the cheese plate from the western menu.


The SQ First Class 777 seat

Overall, I really enjoyed this meal. I always love that interesting and foreign flavors presented that stretch my palette well beyond what it’s accustomed to. The highlights of the meal was the noodles with squid and sea urchin and then finally the main fish and chicken proteins. Great flavors that stood up well at high altitude. Singapore served a great meal that sets a high standard for all other airlines.


ROUND 2: Japan Airlines Kyo Kaiseki Japanese Meal

After a wonderful ten days of many amazing foodie experiences, I was sad to head out to Haneda for my trip back home to San Francisco. Of course, we experienced an amazing Kyo Kaiseki meal in Kyoto and I have included photos of this authentic meal as the end as an epilogue. But the Kyoto meal is not part of this Battle at 39,000 feet. It was time for Japan Airlines to submit their meal for this competition.



Bon appetit! Here’s a little Salon champers to start things off!



Amuse bouche


Even before the competition started, I was served an off-menu amuse bouche of fois gras tambale, a smoked salmon roll, and prosciutto with mozzarella and asparagus. It was all delicious and we hadn’t even started with the kaiseki meal yet!



Japan Airlines First Class Kyo Kaiseki Menu

Before service began, the wonderful flight attendant pointed out that the menu was created by celebrity chef Hideki Ishikawa of the restaurant “ISHIKAWA” and also the celebrity chef, Koji Koizumi of “KOHAKU”. She said she has never eaten in their restaurants but has heard wonderful things about them. I was very excited!



Sakizuke

As usual the meal began with cold small bites as the Sakizuke course. Japan Airlines always offers five different bites as opposed to three on Singapore. I tasted Wagyu beef, greenling fish, Sakura shrimp, hair crab meat, and an egg custard with truffle sauce and caviar. WOW. It was a symphony of flavors and that knocked my socks off. The greenling and the crab were my favorites. I was leary about the egg custard but it was creamy, salty goodness.


Owan

Next comes the Owan, a lightly seasoned soup meant to cleanse the palate before the sashimi course. I opened the soup lid to find a delicious broth flavored with common orient clam, bamboo shoots and pepper leaves. I really enjoyed it as it prepared me for the heavier items.


Otsukuri

The sashimi course, Otsukuri, offered steamed abalone with sea urchin and abalone liver sauce paired with Seared Alfonsino. While I don’t often think of sashimi as steamed or seared, this course was the highlight of the meal. In fact it was the highlight of any of the courses in this battle. SPECTACULAR. It all melted in my mouth in a way that fish never has before. It was a thoughtfully chosen and prepared dish that I would be happy to eat anywhere let alone on a plane.



Nimono, Kounomono, Hanmono, Tomewan

The Nimono course offers meats that are boiled in a soup of dashi, shoyu and mirin. The tilefish was accompanied by turnip and spinach. As I was getting full by this point, I enjoyed the light flavor and also the smaller size! It was served with Kounomono (pickles) and Hanmono rice adorned with clams and butterbur. Finally the tray also included the Tomewan miso soup with veggies.


A little cheese to finish things off

Once again I chose a western cheese plate to end my meal instead of the sweet black beans and melon that was the final course of the menu.

By the end of the meal, I was stuffed and extremely happy. Even after 10 days of only eating Japanese food, the meal was exciting and delicious. Outstanding.

THE FINAL VERDICT:
This was not an easy decision. Both Singapore’s and JAL’s Kyo Kaiseki meals were excellent. The both brought a variety of fresh flavors together in a purposeful and well executed manner. Serving any food at 39,000 feet can be challenging but with a menu based on subtlety and nuance, this is even more challenging. But there must be a champion.

AND THE WINNER IS:
Japan Airlines. The meal flowed beautifully and the highlight was the abalone with sea urchin and abalone liver sauce. Luxurious.

As a self-proclaimed foodie and home chef, I am inspired to create my own kyo kaiseki menu honoring local meats and vegetables. I can’t wait to see what I am able to come up with. But until then, I will continue to look forward to seeing what my sky chefs prepare for me in my future travels.

EPILOGUE:
For reference, I am also including photos of an amazing kyo kaiseki meal we experienced while in Kyoto during our stay in Japan. Gion Hanasaki has been recommended by many locals as a place they go when wanting kyo kaiseki. We ordered their Hana menu of ten dishes and it was one of the best meals of my life. No airline can even approach what a restaurant can achieve on the ground. Instead I offer this meal as an inspiration. Go to Kyoto and experience the beautiful cherry blossom season. The locals dress in traditional kimono to celebrate Sakura. Pair that with a delicious kyo kaiseki meal of fresh ingredients and you have an experience that you will never forget.


Entrance to Gion Hanasaki


Small dish - Tofu


Sakizuke


Otsukuri and Suimono


Wanmono


Mushimono


Shiizakana


Sushi


Tomewan


Mizumono

Our meal at Gion Hanasaki was incredible and something I will never forget in my life.

Until I greet you again, thank you Japan for wonderful memories.

Sayonara.

Last edited by olafman; Apr 23, 19 at 1:57 pm
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Old Apr 18, 19, 11:46 am
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We enjoyed watching the cherry blossoms bloom throughout the country. This is definitely a magical time of year to visit Japan.


The Imperial Palace, Tokyo


The Imperial Palace, Tokyo


The blossoms of spring


A garden next to our hotel, The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho


An evening relaxation moment among the blossoms in Kyoto


Kyoto


Odawara


Nonomiya Shrine, Arashiyama


Miyajima Island


Itsukushima Floating Torii
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Old Apr 18, 19, 8:01 pm
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Great report - making me drool looking at the pictures!!!
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Old Apr 19, 19, 7:11 am
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Would love to see more food pics from your trip!
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Old Apr 21, 19, 9:24 pm
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Thanks for a great report - you surely don't waste words and come down straight to business

Now that's an interesting photo:
Originally Posted by olafman View Post

An evening relaxation moment among the blossoms in Kyoto
Is it a kind of an outdoors restaurant or a picknick area? I thought Japanese were not fond of eating outside?
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Old Apr 22, 19, 4:40 pm
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Very nice!
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Old Apr 22, 19, 5:02 pm
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Originally Posted by cockpitvisit View Post
Now that's an interesting photo:

Is it a kind of an outdoors restaurant or a picknick area? I thought Japanese were not fond of eating outside?
Not for お花見and few other specific situations.
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Old Apr 23, 19, 1:55 pm
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Originally Posted by cockpitvisit View Post

Is it a kind of an outdoors restaurant or a picnic area? I thought Japanese were not fond of eating outside?
The Japanese love to eat under the cherry blossoms! Often you will see a group having a picnic on a large plastic blue tarp.

This happened to be more organized with little tables and chairs. Even though it was drizzling, they enjoyed the moment.
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Old Apr 26, 19, 11:54 pm
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Fabulous! Beautiful pictures.
How was western cheese platter right after the Japanese meal? I almost never have cheese after Asian food unless it’s ice cream or similar sweet dairy.
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Old Apr 29, 19, 8:30 am
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I just had the kaiseki flying from SIN-TYO in F and it was one of the best airplane meals I've ever had. It was a night flight so I only had a couple of the courses but on the way back next week I'll definitely partake in the whole affair. SQ in F is life at its best :-)
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Old Apr 30, 19, 4:43 am
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Not my kind of food but your Trip Report was spectacular. Thanks.
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Old Apr 30, 19, 9:41 am
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I love food, and I love to travel.
Love your trip report with the beautiful pictures!

Thank you!
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Old Apr 30, 19, 12:14 pm
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Originally Posted by gaobest View Post
Fabulous! Beautiful pictures.
How was western cheese platter right after the Japanese meal? I almost never have cheese after Asian food unless itís ice cream or similar sweet dairy.
I am not a big sweets guy, so a cheese platter is the perfect ending to a nice meal. It worked much better after the kaiseki than some sweet Japanese dessert.
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