Honzen Ryori (Formally arranged meal) (本膳料理)

We will introduce Honzen ryori (formally arranged meal), one type of traditional food among Japanese-style cuisines.

Honzen ryori is a formal Japanese-style meal course.

It gives 'meal' a ceremonious purpose.

It began with the manners of the samurai community established in the Muromachi period and developed during the Edo period.

Since the Meiji period, these manners have been out of fashion, and we can only see a trace of them during formal ceremonial occasions such as a coming-of-age day, marriage, or funeral ceremonies (for example, san-san-kudo, when the bride and the groom drink sake during a wedding ceremony). In addition, examples where a restaurant uses the term improperly can often be seen (there are examples of naming the delivery box lunches 'formal arranged meals' for only a marriage or a Buddhist service).

During the Kamakura period, there was a ceremony in which samurai presented the dish 'Ohan' to his master shogun at the beginning of the New Year. At first, it was just a simple dish like carp, however, during the Muromachi period when Samurai dominated the economy and politics, the shogunate moved to the capital where the cultural influence of the court nobles ran deep; not only the number of dishes increased, but more eleaborate ideas were put into the meals. Especially, after becoming 'onari' for receiving the Muromachi Shogunate, it gradually developed into a feast. It's thought that honzen ryori (formally arranged meal) was established at this time.

Records show that it may consist of 7 dishes of food; namely shikisankon (three trays of drink and food), zoni (vegetable soup containing rice cakes), honzen (the first tray), ninozen (the second tray), and sannozen (the third tray), and the scale ranged from a mouthful container just like a suzuributa (a lid of an ink stone) to a large-scale banquet. However, most of these dishes were for 'show,' those in fact for eating were not that many. This Honzen ryori (formally arranged meal) was just ceremonial; after this was the Noh play and the Noh farce, then a light meal and sake was served such as udon (Japanese thick white noodles) and thin wheat noodles which was the actual feast. Occasionally, some feasts lasted almost three days.

A menu might have one soup and three side dishes, one soup and five side dishes, two soups and five side dishes, two soups and seven side dishes, three soups and five side dishes, three soups and seven side dishes, or three soups and eleven side dishes. The most basic form is a combination set of trays; the honzen (the first tray) has seven dishes (seven kinds of food), the ninozen (the second tray) has five dishes (five kinds of food), and the sannozen (the third tray) has three dishes (three kinds of food).

The head of a school for honzen ryori (formally arranged meal)
During mid Muromachi period, complicated honzen ryori (formally arranged meal) emerged from schools specializing in preparing cuisine. 'The Ogusa school' and 'the Shinshi school' were famous, and each "secret recipe," such as "The record of what Ogusa-dono said," was inherited from master to student. Manner specialist wanted to fix the table manners for honzen ryori (formally arranged meal), so a how-to book by the Ogasawara school called "Shokumotsufukuyo-no-maki" (a book for taking meals) was published.

Suzuributa (a lid of an ink stone)
Suzuributa, appeared during the Edo period, and was a peculiar menu, its popularity associated with the spread of Shippoku cuisine (special Chinese cuisine in Nagasaki Prefecture, to which Japanese cooking methods were introduced) and sugar. As the name suggests, it was first put on the lid of an ink stone. The dishes served to Suzuributa may be sweets such as kinton (mashed sweet potatoes), yokan (a bar of sweetened and jellied bean paste), kanten-gashi (agar-used confectionary); these are called confectionary cuisines. Or Suzuributa may be dishes of tsukudani (boiled foods in sweetened soy sauce) such as kamaboko (boiled fish paste), burdock, or little fish; these are foods ready for preservation, as the guests were used to taking the Suzuributa home. Datemaki (a rolled omelet mixed with fish paste), a familiar osechi food (special food for New Years in Japan), is often put out as Suzuributa, since the texture and the manufacturing method is very similar to that in Nagasaki, which is called 'sponge cake boiled fish paste' and it seems that the relationship among these three is high.

Although it looks like hassun (a tray of about 24cm square for serving several dishes) in kaisei-ryori (a light meal served before a ceremonial tea), hassun is eaten in situ (this is called "kuikiri (eating up)"), also the dishes supplied are good with sake, however, as mentioned previously, Suzuributa are confectioneries or food ready for preservation. In Kansai, Suzuributa is called kuchidori (a mouthful dish of assorted delicacies); the contents are similar, but the custom is to eat in situ there. Now, cost and customs are out of fashion.

[Original Japanese]