This year around Easter on our trip around Japan I visited Kyoto for the second time in my life and it was just as fantastic as the first time! Kyoto carries a certain magic which I find unusual for a city this size. Temples (and yes, they look even prettier when cherry blossoms are blooming), old wooden houses, more temples but also high tech and and a busy buzz.
Food wise Kyoto is especially known for Kaiseki, the tradition of beautifully arranged multi-course dinners. I definitely wanted to try such a dinner in Kyoto but since we were late to make our hotel bookings (only about six weeks in advance, too late for cherry blossom season!) I did not succeed in booking a Ryokan as I had initially planned. Ryokan are bed and breakfast places, often privately driven and with few rooms. They are mostly placed in older wooden houses with tatami floors and sliding doors and they would serve kaiseki dinners. We experienced this later on the trip, so no harm done.
Instead we tried many other delicacies typical for Kyoto.
Soy milk ramen
A filling lunch, let me tell as much! Thick noodles are served in a huge bowl of creamy soup, topped with sesame seeds and spring onion. I think there was some minced meat in this also, but I am not sure, maybe it was tofu?
By accident we stumbled upon this obviously legendary place in Gion and had “Issen Yoshoku” for lunch. Yet another variant of okonimiyaki which to me merely seems an “empty your fridge” dish. Well, at least I know what to cook on that late Wednesday night when I come home after work-out. This dish would really be suited for a knife and fork, it was not pretty!
After about five days in Japan I hit the umami wall. I simply could not stand the thought of miso, konbu, soy, dashi and daikon any more. What to do when all you want is to eat local food? I admit it: I tripped and had a pizza. The incredible thing about Kyoto is the extremely high standard of any food. Even this pizza was utterly delicious and as a regular in Italy I have really high expectations when it comes to my favourite comfort food.
This for me being a food trip just as much as your usual sightseeing trip, we treated ourselves to dessert almost every night. Menus are often written in somewhat cryptic English and so more often than not we ordered something without understanding fully what is was. Most Japanese desserts contain rice or beans in some form and I have to say that I am not the biggest fan.
The worst surprise on the dessert list being things topped with roasted soy flour (kinako) like these dango, chewy rice flour dumplings. Almost impossible to choke down! I still have nightmares about them.
All in all Kyoto is my land of plenty. Make sure you have several days there, you will need them to spread out the temples so you do not get into a paddy after the first dozen. And you will definitely need some days to taste this and that. They are perfectionists here and you will not be disappointed!