Japan’s eternal city, Kyoto, is home to the refined flavors of washoku, or Japanese cuisine. Its tofu (beancurd) cuisine and pickled vegetables, called tsukemono, are recognized as one of the best in Japan.
Tofu & Vegetables
Yudofu, or boiled tofu, is a signature local dish that you will find served in refined traditional ryokan guesthouses, or at Japanese cuisine restaurants. Yuba, or beancurd skin, is another specialty. If you are under the impression that tofu is tasteless, one tofu meal here will change your mind. Kyoto is also famous for its vegetables, called “kyo-yasai”, from succulent radish, to eggplants and leeks, to name a few. These are eaten cooked in various ways, grilled, as tempura, or pickled. These pickles are often served to accompany rice.
Soba, or buckwheat noodles, served in hot broth and topped with a simmered herring, is a Kyoto specialty harking from the Meiji era. Surrounded by mountains and with no access to the sea, fish was often pickled or simmered to keep for longer in Kyoto. This explains Kyoto’s other famous dish, the shime saba, or vinegared mackerel. There are some old shops over a hundred years old specializing in shime saba sushi, or vinegared mackerel pressed over rice. At the Gion district, you will find many old shops and tourists queuing up for shime saba sushi, or soba.
If you visit the Pontocho nightlife district, you will find many exclusive restaurants serving kaiseki, or traditional course meals, catering to clients who hire geisha entertainers with their meal - though of course you can enjoy kaiseki without geisha entertainment at many restaurants. Kyoto is also home to famous green tea producers, and is a good place to try authentic matcha served with wagashi, or Japanese dessert. Nowadays, you will find dessert parlors serving up matcha desserts, from cheesecakes to soft serve ice-cream and milkshakes. Tofu desserts in the form of ice-cream and puddings are also popular and commonly found. Summer Dining
In the summer, eating at a kawadoko, or riverside dining, is an experience not to be missed. The cooling Kamogawa river breeze can be enjoyed while having your meal outdoors on a terrace. At the Kibune mountain region, you can sit directly above the gushing river while enjoying your meal, which will include a sweetfish caught from the river. Hamo, or pike conger eel, is a summer staple in Kyoto, and is eaten during the summer for its high nutrition and invigorating powers.
In autumn, chestnuts from the Tamba region in northern Kyoto are famous throughout Japan for their size and sweetness.
During the year-end, the Nishiki Market will be crowded with locals doing shopping for their New Year meal. This long covered market spanning a few blocks with shops lining both sides of the walkway is where you will find many specialty shops selling seafood, pickles or meat.Another place to sample the best of Kyoto cuisine is the Kyoto Station, where you can find popular local restaurants, including tasty and crisp tonkatsu - so don’t worry about not being able to find popular soul food in Kyoto either!
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