At its finest hour, the Japanese food served at the old inns and tea houses of Kyoto is so elegant and delicate that it almost becomes homeopathic. Like the doctor who follows the homeopathic principle — the less medicine prescribed, the better the results — chefs in the well-worn kitchens of the old imperial city use as little seasoning as possible to achieve results unmatched by the common stalls and stand-up eateries.

As a young cook in Japanese kitchens, I had to struggle with my desire to beef up the soup, to infuse the marinade with too much flavor and to generally kick the sauce up a notch. Classic Japanese food doesn't need to be "kicked up." It does need, however, to be prepared carefully and deliberately. When this is accomplished, the diner will feel uplifted without being overwhelmed.

Staying the hand, where the use of soy sauce is concerned, will yield satisfying results only if the entire meal observes the same rule. It takes only one dish overloaded with spice to upset the entire rhythm of an otherwise impressive meal. Letting the palate respond to subtle stimulation is the key to good cooking.