I always loved peculiar foods and that's exactly why I want to tell you about Shijo Dori. I especially loved Kyoto foods and all sort of Japanese dishes. I never shied away from trying seaweed salad, raw sushi or stinky blue cheeses. The more bizarre a food would sound like, the more interested I would be to try it. I grew up with the idea that Japan equals sushi, a thought which always made me fantasise about visiting the land of the fish roll. Little I knew at the time that Japan was not only the world's kitchen but a gourmet country with a high sense of respect when it comes to food.
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When I first arrived in the Kansai region, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of dish choices. As I learned, the Japanese use fresh and seasonal ingredients, which make their food always delicious, visually appealing and incredibly varied. If Tokyo is Japan's futuristic core, then Kyoto must be the country's culinary delight. I was first introduced to the Kansai cuisine via street food. It was on my first day in Kyoto, in Gion, on the Shijo Dori. It was a dark and cold evening of December and I allowed for my hunger and curiosity to take hold of me, and guide me from shop to shop, on a true culinary exploration. That was the day I discovered the foodie's paradise.
My first stop along Shijo Dori was in a tea shop called Tsujiri Tea House. I was mainly attracted by the Japanese way of packaging and presenting their merchandise. I wandered around the busy shop and discovered myriad of tea varieties. What caught my eye, was a tiny, pink box, which said Umekobu Cha on it. This was a plum flavoured seaweed tea, which to my surprised tasted sweet and salty. A delicious combination of flavours, made me addicted to it ever since.
Firstly, the Japanese have an affinity for two things: Matcha tea flavoured desserts and sweet, juicy strawberries. The combination of these two ingredients, create an explosively flavoured cake. Secondly, in Japan, nothing but perfection is deemed to be paraded in front of customers, hence any cakes, in any sweet shop, at any given time, will look mesmerizingly beautiful. A Japanese cake shop if an equivalent of a gourmet museum.
Whilst meandering on Shijo Dori, I came across a shop called Kogetsu. No ordinary confectionery shop, I must add, as they sold sweet filled Senju crackers. Here, I found adzuki bean jellies, Kuzutamas (jams in mouth-watering jelly) and of course Kasutera Matcha cake (a Matcha flavoured fairy cake). They usually have samples for you to try, but be warned, once you taste their sweets, you will want to spend all your savings on buying the whole shop!
Oh, my dear story of the dango at the Ohaginotanbaya shop. I was still a novice in the "dango" world when I arrived in Kyoto. I tried it before in Shinjuku, but never seen it presented in such large varieties, covered not just with sticky sauce, but also with all sort of Matcha, nori and red bean powders. Throughout Japan, I experienced an obvious language barrier, but sometimes you can use this to your advantage. In my case, I had no idea what I was about to purchase, hence I pointed at a plastic box with focus massive mochi looking balls. It was because I couldn't ask questions, that I dared to get out of my comfort zone and try new things, weird foods and drinks, and figure out things for myself.
In Kyoto, everything is Matcha. Matcha sweets, Matcha ice cream, Matcha cake. If you don't like Matcha, chances are you are probably going to learn to love it. I was one of the lucky ones. I loved Matcha and been drinking it for years before visiting Japan. It's easy to figure out if something contains the magical tea: if it's green, it's Matcha flavoured and probably very, very delicious.
Weird Ice Creams
Lucky as I was to stroll along Shijo Dori, in the middle of Kyoto, I was recovering from the serious flu I caught during my stay in Tokyo. My throat still required medication and a tremendous amount of hot teas. Although being ill was not fun, I didn't experience many difficulties exploring Japan...until I came across an ice cream shop. This was no ordinary ice cream shop, as it lured me in with its unorthodox ice cream flavours: charcoal, red bean, Sakura and, of course, Matcha tea. For about 10 minutes I must have sat there, staring at the vendor selling ice cream to everyone but me. I wanted it so badly, I could hear the weird flavours calling my name. Despite my sore throat, I decided to give in. As a result, I lost my voice entirely for days to come. Was it worth it? Abso-charcoal-lutely!
On Shijo Dori I found a shop called Ousu-No-Sato which specialises in a huge variety of jams, as well as pickled plums. After a discussion with the owner, I learned there are myriad ways to pickle plum, each serving a different culinary purpose. I tried several sweet and sour sample and washed it all off with authentic sake. Although I would have never thought so, I somehow ended up buying four different jars of jams and a plastic box of pickled plums.
What is your favourite peculiar food and why? Are you interested in visiting Japan's culinary scene? Tell me all about it in the comments section below.