Eating Japan: Kyoto

We spent three days in Kyoto, one of which I’ve already detailed in my post about the amazing Nishiki Markets. We did a bit of temple hopping (more to come on that), and a great deal of eating.

The food was generally amazing. From street food outside temples to more refined restaurant fare in Gion, we ate exceptionally well.

There are places to eat everywhere, so there is rarely a time when you can’t find something to fill a hole. Except at breakfast time. Most days we were trying to be out by about 8am (there’s a four hour time difference from NZ, so we were awake early). Sadly where we were staying (in north west Kyoto) there is very little open at that time of the day. Most food establishments don’t open until 11am. The exceptions are Western chains – McDonald’s, Starbucks, etc. We at both of those mentioned, in desperation, once. I didn’t photograph it. I would recommend staying in the Kyoto CBD, as it just has more to offer throughout the day, without having to travel far when you’re tired and hungry.

TEMPLE FOOD

The temples in Kyoto are flat out busy, especially in the weekend, but from what I could see, throughout the week as well. The great thing about temple life in Japan is that they provide sustenance for weary pilgrims in the form of numerous, diverse food stalls.

Generally we found a mix of food on sticks (chicken, beef, pork, bacon), takoyaki (octopus balls), and unusual sweet offerings. This is some of what we sampled:

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Taiyaki – fish shaped pastries, filled with red bean paste or custard. This one was custard.
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Yakimochi – savoury glutinous rice balls (like mochi), brushed with soy sauce and chargrilled.
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Karaage – fried chicken. Enough said.
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Mitarashi Dango – smaller glutinous rice balls, but sweet this time. Served hot and drizzled with syrup, then dredged in powdered tea.
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Bacon on a stick – I’m sure it has a Japanese name, but I have no idea what it is. Apologies for the pink photo….

 

RESTAURANT FARE

It is possible to eat very cheaply in Japan, particularly if you go to an izakaya (effectively a bar that sells food). The biggest challenge is translating menus, but many locations offer an English menu or at the very least have photos of the food on their Japanese menu so you can point to what you want!

We ate at a mix of low end and high end places while we were in Kyoto. It’s worth checking out the restaurants in train stations, as they are often excellent.

Our first night was at an Okonomiyaki restaurant in north west Kyoto. The okonomiyaki (a thick Japanese pancake, filled with cabbage and pork and topped with sauces and bonito flakes) and yakisoba (fried noodles with meat and veggies) were cooked in the kitchen and then bought out to us and placed on a hot plate to keep warm while we ate.

Night two was higher end. We’d travelled down to Shijo-dori (basically the Kyoto CBD), got out at Shijo station and found a great Japanese restaurant before we’d emerged out onto the street. A win, since it was pouring with rain. Sadly I can’t give you the name since it was in Japanese, but the sign on the door is below.

Our final night we ate at a place called Wasabi in the back streets of Gion. This was the most expensive meal we had, but still reasonable at about NZ$70 per head. Again this was a varied Japanese offering, super fresh sashimi, and general deliciousness.

EVERYTHING ELSE

This is a bit of a dump of some of the other great food we ate, and where we ate it (to the best of my ability.

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Ramen – Ippudo is good
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Iced Matcha Lattes – available pretty much everywhere. Avoid Starbucks, their’s is far too sweet.
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Japanese Baked Goods – this bun filled with creme caramel was amazing. Worth trying for sure.
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Gyoza – these ones were from Ippudo. Delicious.
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The cutest doughnut ever. This one was from Shinkyogoku Shopping Mall.
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Great place for coffee and breakfast in Kyoto station. Coffee comes with free boiled egg and toast.

Finally, Baumkuchen. These rounds cakes are found all over Kyoto, are soft, not too sweet and delicious. They’re finely layered, and beautifully packaged. They even include a knife. I did an unboxing so you can see.

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