A Day in Nara, Japan
If one can draw your memory far back enough to when I first started posting my travels to Japan, it has in fact been almost one year. Time does fly. I have since unpacked, repacked, gone and come back from Europe – which is similarly overdue for completion.
Whilst the majestic scenery, bustling city life can leave the first timer in awe, for me it was the serene culture outside of Tokyo with its accompanying perfectionistic perseverance over food that has left the strongest impression on me. With that in mind I shall unveil one of my most memorable meals in the heart of the old capital Nara (predating Kyoto).
A side note. Don’t be afraid to travel outside the big bustling cities, to explore the smaller less well-trodden places around Japan. It is here where you will really experience Japan. And public transport will get you everywhere. If you find you need some guidance, and are short on money, there are many Good Samaritan guide clubs across Japan, that offers volunteer tour guide services. Not only is it free, it is flexible as to what things you would like to see. All you pay for is the guides’ travel costs and meals. Occasionally the guides may be less experienced, but generally they are older-retired local residents or younger art-history students whom are quite knowledgeable. I enlisted a guide from Nara Guide Club for my day in Nara.
In the early mist of dawn, we take a short train ride from Kyoto to Nara. Our guide takes us (as requested by me) for a morning stroll of Naramachi (old town). Though many places were closed over the winter season, the cobble streets lined with old historic buildings and merchant shops, many dating back to the 19th century is photographic heaven. The temples / shrines date back further to the 8th century – Gangoji temple being one of these.
And, now for our long awaited lunch at Tofu-an.
In Japan, tofu is regarded highly and appears frequently on traditional kaiseki (degustation) meals. I would not be exaggerating when I say some of the highest quality tofu I have ever had, was during this trip in Japan split between Kyoto and Nara. There is just this incredible simplicity and delicate earthiness, with a whisper of tradition and devotion shining through, that makes it so memorable.
I was told there has long been dispute between Nara and Kyoto for the best tofu, and now I can understand why. If you have time, you can decide for yourself which one is better.
The winter menu with English translations. Yay, for not needing to google-translate for once.
[Courses 1, 2, 3, 5, 4 from top down]
Yudofu (course 4) heating up right in front of us…. mmm
After much dining in excess in the past week through Tokyo and Kyoto, the pared back minimalism of this tofu inspired menu was a welcome respite. The tofu here was absolutely divine, whether it is the smooth, velvety pot of silken tofu boiled in soy milk (yudofu), or the very creamy Oboro Tofu (supposedly made on the spot in small quantities), or the golden cubes of tofu kakiage smeared with a delectable miso paste.
This place comes highly recommended by people before me, and I too give it a thumbs up.
[奈良町豆腐庵こんどう – TOFU-AN KONDOU]
Where: 日本, 〒630-8334 奈良県奈良市西新屋町44. It isn’t the easiest place to find, so having GPS might be helpful. P.S. it’s near “Koshin-do” (monkey shrine).
Details: 13 course Tofu Kannou Course 2000 yen (lunch). You will have to make reservations beforehand, as it is a small place. I actually had my volunteer-guide organise it for us. Generally lunch menus are heavily discounted, so if you’re on a budget but still want to try high-end food, check them out at lunch.
We now head eastward to Nara Park, which is home to one of Japan’s most famous temple Todaiji (Great Eastern Temple). The main hall is the world’s largest wooden building, and houses Japan’s largest bronze statue of Buddha. The surrounding parkland is alive with many free roaming sika deer. Some loose change will get you some sika senbei (crackers) to feed them. Be wary, though cute they can be hungry and relentless…
Note: Set aside at least most of the day to explore Nara Parks. There is plenty to see.
After quite a long day of walking around Nara, a quick snack before dinner is required. Mos Burgers anyone? Wish it was so easy to get awesome snacks in Melbourne…