A Kappo chef prepares meat at the counter for cooking

Kappo Cuisine: Osaka’s Contribution to Japanese Food Culture

Japanese has a unique culture around food, but street food and Kyoto’s gourmet Kaiseki cuisine tend to dominate the conversation. However, Osaka has made a unique and fun contribution to Japan’s food culture. That contribution is Kappo cuisine, a unique blend of fine-dining and interaction that shines thanks to its less formal feel.

While Osaka is known for its down-to-earth feel and foods, like okonomiyaki and kushikatsu, it has this amazing yet casual version of gourmet. But what is Kappo and what makes it so unique? Read on to take a deep dive into this fine dining experience!

What is Kappo Cuisine?

Two pieces of bone-in chicken sit on a plate in a kappo restaurant
This style of fine dining is all about small dishes that add up to a whole delicious meal, like this high-class karaage. Image via Instagram (@itougourmet.29)

Kappo means ‘to cut and cook’, so you can probably put the meaning together. No? Well, Kappo cuisine, or Kappo-ryori, is a type of high-end Japanese food experience that usually consists of a series of several small, seasonal dishes. However, the ‘cut and cook’ idea comes with the fact that the chef works right in front of you.

Kappo is famous for its seasonality and its more personal feeling, with the chef working right in front of you. This allows you to not only see the process but also to communicate with the chef. In order to foster that sense of closeness and communication, most of these restaurants only offer counter seating or table seating right next to where the chef is working. They also usually only have enough space for about 10 people.

In fact, while many shops offer set menus, many offer more of a bespoke experience. Great Kappo chefs are supposed to have the ability to talk with a customer and make subtle changes to the menu or even new dishes that fits their customers’ needs.

A kappo chef puts the finishing touches on a dish before serving
With this style of fine dining, you are up close and personal with the chef, and many of these chefs build relationships with regulars. Image via Instagram (@68eeknz)

These dishes and subtle changes also take seasonal ingredients into account, so you’ll get a different dish in winter than you would in summer, spring or fall. If you’re new to this style or maybe lack Japanese ability, set courses are the way to go.

Plus, these chefs are highly skilled and have an average of 10-15 years of training to learn various styles of cooking. This is because a Kappo chef has to be ready to make almost any Japanese dish or to make fully fleshed out courses of various dishes. It also takes a lot of skill to cook and engage in conversation at the same time.

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What Makes Kappo Special?

A beautiful tray of dragon art and food in a kaiseki food course
Kaiseki is famous for many reasons, and one of them is the gorgeous presentation, inspired by tea ceremonies. Image via Instagram (@kyousougooru_kun)

To understand why Kappo cuisine is so special, you have to also understand Japan’s kaiseki and izakayas. Kaiseki, or Kaiseki-ryori, is a multi-course meal popularized in Kyoto and usually offered at high-end restaurants.

This style usually carries a hefty price tag, but is praised internationally for several reasons, particularly the way chefs make courses that highlights the season. The appeal of Kaiseki is the unveiling of the next course as staff carry food from the kitchen to your table.

A large mug of highball sits next to a bowl of fried daikon at an izakaya
Izakayas are perfect for enjoying drinks and some quick eats. I personally love a good ginger highball. Image via Unsplash

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the izakaya, a Japanese pub where you can enjoy many small dishes and cold beverages with friends. Izakayas offer set menus that include quick and tasty Japanese food favorites, like yakitori, kara-age, edamame and so much more. This makes izakayas affordable, fun and delicious, which means that they’re very popular in Japan.

Kappo sits in between Kaiseki and izakaya. It still maintains its high-end status with high-quality, seasonal ingredients and beautifully made dishes. However, the focus on communication and the access to the chef help to make it feel a bit more friendly and informal.

Where Did it Come From?

A bowl of soba with yuzu, daikon, and purple petals on top at a kappo restaurant
One of our favorite dishes from this style is noodles. Mostly because the broths and toppings are super seasonal, like this yuzu topping. Image via Instagram (@gowy.aaa)

According to Osaka Info, Kappo was established in the late 1910s and is said to be from Osaka. Around this time, high-end restaurants were in a decline while casual dining experienced an increase in popularity.

The nature of Kappo cuisine and its whole appeal is the fact that the chef and staff work right in front of you. However, before Kappo, food was traditionally prepared before the customer even arrived. So this style offered a fresh change of pace with freshly cooked food that peeled back the curtain on the art, like a live demonstration.

Add the chef’s ability to customize the dinner based on conversations with the diner, and Kappo cuisine had the perfect recipe to become a piece of Japanese food culture. You can even find this Osakan-style restaurant in other countries these days, marketed as high-class experiences.

What Does a Kappo Menu Look Like?

A beautifully arranged plate of sashimi, lobster and more
Just because it's more casual than kaiseki, doesn't mean that Kappo can't do beautifully prepared dishes. Image via Instagram (@jingyo_seo)

Like we mentioned, Kappo cuisine deals a lot in customization and seasonal flavors. Asking, “what’s on the menu?” can be like asking your friend what they want to eat that day. Ingredients change so frequently that even restaurants with a “set” course menu really only keeps the same number of courses every month. The courses, on the other hand, will change with whatever is in season.

Those without a course menu also change what’s available and what they can make based on what they can get their hands on in the season. Summer may see lighter, more refreshing dishes, while winter offers warm, comforting foods. Even though the season dictates the menu, there are menu staples.

Considering that Kappo is pretty traditional, you’ll often find traditional fish dishes, sashimi, fresh vegetables, tempura, and soups. However, many chefs of this style are not afraid to make less traditional dishes too or put unique spins on traditional dishes. Rest assured, though, that the ingredients are all super fresh and the food will be well thought out.

A small bowl of roast beef with a wasabi topping at a kappo shop
While fish is popular in traditional Japanese food, some chefs specialize in making meatier menus in this upscale style. Image via Instagram (@taka.st17)

Kappo is another treasure in the Japanese fine dining scene and it deserves some more recognition in the gourmet food scene. If you ever have the opportunity, definitely give it a try, whether it is here in Osaka or anywhere else in Japan.

Have you ever tried Kappo cuisine? Would you ever give it a try? Let us know in the comments!

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