Kyoto, Japan | food highlights
As promised here is my attempt at rewiring the remnant food memories largely corrupted by intermittent inebriation and the crumbling weight of time. So this will be more of a photo essay than a piece of prose on a select few places that I thoroughly enjoyed in Kyoto.
For the short amount of time spent in Kyoto, split between seeing all the must-see sights (of which there are many), I still managed to plan in at least 2 meals per day, leaving the rest to chance aka: incidentals. A typical day would go as such: wake up to eat breakfast, grab a snack on the way to wherever I was headed, have a sit down lunch (preferably), followed by an afternoon bite, then consider having an early dinner before easing into the final chapter of the night – by that I meant dessert or supper.
At the end of the day there remained plenty more places I wanted to try but simply did not have time or money to spare. First world problems of a traveller…
After a long day of wondering the streets of central Kyoto, we made our final stop at Kaneyo. This century-old shop is the go to place for Kyoto unagi (eel). P.S. unagi does not come cheap (approx. 1600 yen / bowl) by any means.
Being round two for dinner (having already grabbed a quick bite along pontocho a little earlier), meant one bowl of unagi each was more than enough to satiate.
Unagi don – beautifully grilled over charcoal (all charcoal action is visible from the front window), the unagi is fragrantly smoky, crisp on the exterior, and infinitely moist and brimming with sweet umami. I absolutely loved it.
Unagi kinshi – unagi don with the addition of a square omelette. I found the egg whilst supple and cooked well, was probably in my eyes an unnecessary addition that merely fills you up, especially when the true hero is clearly the unagi.
My next stop is Roan Kikunoi, a 2 michelin starred Japanese restaurant serving kaiseki cuisine (懐石料理). The location is pretty off the beaten track hidden away from the main thoroughfares with pretty subtle signage. If you thought Melbourne cafés and restaurants can be difficult to find, you will be in for a treat trying to find places in Japan, where places can be located in alleyways, up dodgy stairwells, not to mention there are hardly any road signage around to orientate you. So, please come equipped with GPS.
Before I move on, I might just point out that Kaiseki refers to a traditional form of Japanese haute degustation, which is particularly well known and attributed to the Kyoto region. It is very high end and can cost upwards of 15000 yen. But luckily many of these high end restaurants will generally have great discounts on their lunch menu. Sometimes the menu will be more restrictive, but mostly it will still be a bargain choice to experience their signature dishes. Rationally I went to Kikunoi at lunch time where the smaller 7 course degustation goes for a much more affordable 8000 yen.
Kaiseki is one of those things you have to splurge on at least once when in Japan, not just for the amazing food but the full dining experience. My one at Kikunoi blew me away with its pure simplicity, intense fragrance, amazing produce, and exceptional elegance.
Sashimi – exceptionally fresh sashimi of red sea bream, baby tuna.
Soup (Yuba mibuna)
Salad (Syougoin daikon)
Tempura (Prawn, sweet potato, green onion)
Rice (Kyoto style hot sushi)
Dessert (Strawberry ice cream, sponge cake pudding)
Whilst there is no shortage of amazing Michelin starred restaurants in Japan to bankrupt your savings, it is equally if not more satisfying when you find an amazing cheap eat that doesn’t set you back a few hundred bucks. Omen Nippon would be one of those that I highly recommend. Menu items vary from 300 yen to 1000 yen.
Warm Tofu in soy milk soup – This isn’t as humbly amazing as that of my tofu degustation in Nara, but brings forth a creamier, heartier experience on the palate with silky tofu. I could not get enough of tofu Japan!
Simmered ebi yam, crab legs in crab ankake sauce – if you know me at all, you will know that I love taro and yam, so this was a must order. The yam slices were cooked in such a way that had the texture of firm tofu yet retained its earthy aroma. The thickened crab sauce married it well.
Mido Noodle, pork, enoki in bone broth – cooked in an earthen pot this generous serving of thick and chewy noodles filled with pork, pumpkin, mushrooms, green onion and taro, would have been enough to feed 2 people alone.
And yet… we still had more food coming (*ahem there was only 2 of us eating).
Omen noodles – a bit of a hands on dish, requiring the completely stuffed (I mean satiated) me to do some work – mixing everything together. Fresh white udon, light miso, roasted sesame, various greens and pickles. A fresh, vibrant way to finish.
Having clearly ordered and consequently devoured too much food, we waddled out struggling to catch our breath, but completely content.
P.S. Don’t forget to check out my other travel posts in Japan!
Contact: +81 75-221-0669
[おめんＮＩＰＰＯＮ, 四条先斗町店] Omen Nippon
Where: 京都府京都市中京区先斗町通四条上る柏屋町171−2. There are two other branches in Kyoto, serving slightly different menus too.
Contact: +81 75-253-0377
Menu: For those of you who can read Japanese, they have their seasonal menus on their site. I vaguely remember they have English menus on site as well.
[露庵 菊乃井, 木屋町店] Kikunoi, 2 Michelin stars. English site.
Contact: +81 75-361-5580.
P.S. you may want to ask your hotel to make reservations for you. Limited seating available.