Kyoto is the former capital of Japan, the place where nobles of the country had once resided. The city, throughout the ages, cooked food for aristocrats, vegetarian dishes to the monks, local delicacies, and now, the modern taste of Japan. Even the pickiest of eaters will savor the food in Kyoto.
The Old Capital, Kyoto
Kyoto, sitting right next to Mount Hiei, is the third-largest city of Japan and was chosen as the old capital city of Japan. Kyoto has easy access to roads and rivers, an exceptional location for strategic mountain and river defenses. Formerly known as “Heian-kyo,” it has remained the main political center of Japan until 1185.
Kyoto’s cultural places and traditional settings were plundered by fires, wars, and earthquakes during its reign as the imperial capital. Kyoto survived during World War II as it was believed to be excluded on the Atomic bombing list of the United States because of its cultural importance. It is home to a large number of religious places-- such as temples and shrines-- and is widely famous for its well-preserved culture and vast variation of food.
When it comes to food, Kyoto has a lot to offer. In the Gion area of central Kyoto, lies the so-called “Kyoto’s Kitchen,” Nishiki Market. This four-century-old mercantile caters a great deal of traditional Japanese food and ingredients such as fresh tofu, green tea, fresh seafood, and other notable examples of Japanese food.
Aside from Kyoto’s prowess with different kinds of Japanese food and breathtaking sceneries, Kyoto is likewise famous for its festivals. One of the festivals that make Kyoto standout is the Gion Festival. This festival has been celebrated by different people from inside and outside of Kyoto for a thousand years during summer, which takes place in the vicinity of Yasaka Shrine. This annual festival happens the entire month of July, with several rituals throughout the month. The focal event of Gion Festival is the parade of meters-tall wooden floats. Gion Festival is also best for people who enjoy nightlife parties and for people who are fans of street food.
Food in Kyoto
Kyoto is known for its wide variation of Japanese delicacies, and may indeed offer an unending list of food for both locals and tourists but will narrow it down to couple sensational Kyoto foods that you should absolutely try.
Yudofu or Boiled tofu
Tofu dishes by themselves are not limited to Japan, but Kyoto takes the dish to another level. The Yudofu is a dish that can be prepared under 20 minutes, simple to make, and simple to enjoy. The fresh tofu is boiled with strands of kelp and is meant to be enjoyed with a special sauce that melds the flavor into one dish. Not only is it aesthetically beautiful, the dish is also healthy to eat. While the Yudofu is a dish by itself, there are also varying side dishes that can additionally add different tastes to your Kyoto food experience.
Super Food “Yuba”
The nutritious yuba is made when you boil gojiru (soy milk), or soybeans that is also used to prepare tofu—the film-type substance formed on the surface when the gojiru is heated is the yuba. If you like tofu, you will enjoy the delicious healthy yuba for syre, especially when it is served fresh and raw because of its distinctive flavor and soft texture. Some restaurants serve yuba as toppings to a rice bowl with special Japanese sauce.
Tsukemono or Japanese Pickles
This Japanese dish is a salt-preserved vegetable, usually pickles. There are three types of pickles used to make Tsukemono, namely: Shibazuke, Senmaizuke, and Sugezuke. Shibazuke is a mixture of chopped cucumber and eggplant, pickled with shiso leaves. This pickles attracts any eye who would come across it due to its beautiful magenta color. Senmaizuke, on the other hand, is made of big round Shogoin turnips that are harvested during the winter season, which is when it is mostly available. Differently, Sugezuke uses a kind of turnip called Sugukina-- this turnip has a small head and is long-leafed. The harvest of sugukina is said to have begun at the Kamigamo Shrine. Savoring these pickles could definitely make your trip to Kyoto almost complete.
For Seafood Lovers
Hamo (Conger eel)
Because of its difficulty in preparation, the hamo (conger eel) dish is a luxury dish that should be part of your must-try in Kyoto! The eel can be served over rice or deep-fried. It is meant to be enjoyed with a special sauce, which easily seeps into the succulent and chewy flesh. It is flavorful as it is filled with health benefits, making the dish quite expensive, another factor being that not just any chef can make dishes with it. Given a chance, you should try the famous eel dishes in Kyoto.
Kyozushi (Kyo sushi)
Kyozushi, a local forte of Kyoto, is a special type of sushi because it uses cured raw fish. Given that sushi is now common worldwide, this sushi surely bites differently when savored in Kyoto. This sushi is found almost everywhere on the central streets of the city.
Sweet Tooth Choices
Yatsuhashi is a sweet that comes in two forms - either crunchy when baked or soft and chewy when unbaked, both popular versions that you can find in Kyoto. Try both of them; moreover, try different flavors as there are numerous variants with this sweet. Some of the flavors are chocolate, matcha, sesame, and the classic cinnamon. When buying Yatsuhashi, don't forget to add extra boxes for souvenirs and note that they may come in assorted sets.
Wagashi is a local Japanese sweet served at tea ceremonies typically made from natural plant-based ingredients like beans, agar agar (seaweed gelatin), grains, and starchy roots. Wagashi is best partnered with matcha tea. The most popular type of Wagashi is Mochi made from sticky rice flour. If you prefer a blend of sweetness and saltiness, try the soft and chewy Mitarashi Dango (Japanese rice cakes), usually skewered on a stick.
Matcha and Green Tea
Matcha powder is made from grounded tea leaves that are grown in special surroundings. Matcha-flavored drinks and food are now a usual commodity in Asian countries, especially Japan, due to its health interests and sophisticated flavor. Kyoto, being the “home of tea ceremonies”, has its own Matcha specialty, Uji Matcha. Uji Matcha is believed to be superior when it comes to the quality of Japanese tea. The great view of Kyoto plus a taste of Kyoto’s best Matcha on your lips will assuredly make your Japan adventure more profound.
And of course, noodle soup is popular anywhere in Japan. When you have time during your street stroll, try Nissin Soba. This famous noodle soup is unique in a way that some people eat this cold, depending on the season.
Meals in Kyoto
A meal set is called ‘Teishoku’ in Japan and is the mainstream of Japanese food. Teishoku is often served with rice, fish, noodle soup, and side dishes like fresh tofu, soy paste, yudofu, pickled vegetables, and the likes. Moreover, since set meals are the mainstream of Japan, there are numerous meal sets that you can have-- you can look up for fried, grilled, or broiled Teishoku around Kyoto.
Three famous Kyoto set meals
While set meals are common in Japan, Kyoto itself has its own famed set meals. Pick which option suits your taste and budget:
Shojin Ryori: Vegetarian Dishes
Shojin Ryori was developed from the perspectives of Buddhist monks, from their belief that life is far precious. This vegetable food is commonly enjoyed by temple lodgers as part of the lodging. Among other Ryori, this is thought to be the cheapest because it does not employ animal meat or materials. Even if Ryori is ‘meatless,’ it can’t be denied that the savor is as flavorful as other vegetarian food.
Obanzai Ryori: Home Cooked Style
Prefer a home-styled traditional Kyoto cooking? Obanzai Ryori one is for you. It is undeniable that this Ryori is utterly less complicated to prepare, but its ingredients’ unique flavor can be brought out by the one cooking it with established cooking skills. Obanzai is consistent with the idea of not wasting food materials and ingredients; hence, its cooking relies on vegetables and fish, as they are more perishable.
Kaiseki Ryori: A Noble Array of Food
This Haute multi-course meal is completely unique among the “Ryori family” because of its inspiration-- tea ceremony. Kaiseki Ryori food craft has a balanced taste, surfacing, look, and shade, which makes this meal indelible. This meal usually includes Sakizuke (an appetizer), Sushi, Gohan (a rice dish with seasonings), a miso soup, Mizumono (a dessert), and more fascinating dishes. Kaiseki Ryori was influenced by the Japanese class with high social status.
The beauty of Japan is indeed “world-class”, and one of the best ways to prove such is to visit the Old Capital, Kyoto. From religious temples and shrines to worthwhile festivals and into the exciting food! The beauty of the Japanese culture has surely been consistently preserved by Kyoto through places, traditions, and of course, food!