For an introduction to Japanese cuisine, I always recommend starting with Kyoto food. Located in the heart of the Kansai region, Kyoto is considered a focal point for traditional Japanese cuisine. I experienced a lot of good food in Japan, Kyoto is the city which offered us the most diverse dishes. Now I understand why Kyoto is sometimes referred to as Japan's culinary capital.
If you are wondering what to eat in Kyoto, you might find it difficult to know where to start. We tried a lot of interesting, peculiar and region-specific Kyoto snacks. Japan's old capital city is also the place where we spent much more money on food than say in Tokyo. Was it worth it? Absolutely! We are constantly checking flights prices for Japan because we simply can't wait to go back and enjoy another round of famous foods in Kyoto!
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Kyoto Sushi at Musashi
Musashi is a great sushi restaurant in Kyoto. It is located in the beautiful Kyoto station, which by the way, is epic for shopping. It's a 15 story building full of shops, souvenirs and eateries. You can probably allocate a whole day just wandering around the Kyoto station.
Back to Musashi, the awesome sushi restaurant. This is a conveyor belt sushi place for casual dining. It's always quite busy and sometimes there is a waiting time of 15-20 minutes.
The way it works is pretty simple, here's what to do:
Once you are seated you will notice plates of sushi going round and round. Pick up the sushi you want and when you are done, set all plates aside. There is also a menu available on the side. If you don't see what you fancy going round on the belt, simply tell the chef to make it for you. Nothing better than some great fresh Kyoto sushi. At the end, just press the button for the attendant. They will count your plates and tell you how much you need to pay. The tea is free of charge and you can have as many refills as you fancy.
From the whole trip around Japan, I can honestly say this was some great sushi, at the most reasonable price.
Want more awesome Kyoto food? Try Katsukura
Katsukura is your best bet for crazy good Tonkatsu, a fantastic Kyoto food. Tonkatsu is deep fried breaded pork loin or fillet. It is served with shredded cabbage, miso soup and boiled brown and barley rice. You can also add sweet or spicy sauce on top of your pork to make it even more delicious if that's possible.
Here are a few things you need to know about the place. It's located in the Kyoto station at the 11th floor in the Cube. We spent over 20 minutes trying to find it, this building is an absolute maze. Katsukura is a popular restaurant in Kyoto, so be patient, there might be a waiting time. Once you get seated and order your Tonkatsu, you will receive a sesame mortar (Suribachi) and a pestle (surikogi). You will be shown two sauces readily available on your table: sweet or spicy. Ok, it might look a little intimidating at first, but all you have to do is grind the sesame to a fine powder. Add the desired sauce and mix with your chopsticks. The result is a sticky Japanese sauce which will enhance the taste of your Tonkatsu. After your first bite, you'll think you reached some form of nirvana.
The prices for Tonkatsu at Katsukura might seem a little higher than anywhere else. Just know that included in the price you have unlimited refills of miso, rice, cabbage and tea. It's a pretty good deal. When I'm being asked what Kyoto food is my favourite, I never know if to say the famed Kyoto sushi or Tonkatsu . What is yours?
Weird but Yum Kyoto food - Sukiyaki
For an authentic culinary experience, try sukiyaki, a rather weird Kyoto food. There are plenty of places which serve amazing sukiyaki, with Idoha being one of the best restaurants in Kyoto. Although it's very tempting to go for cheaper establishments, you need to make sure your meal consists of wagyu (Japanese beef). The average prices are about 5000 yen which might sound a bit pricey, but well worth it.
So what is sukiyaki you may ask? It's a delicious dish consisting of thinly sliced wagyu, slowly simmered at the table alongside veg. It's a type of hot pot if you'd like. What you need to know is that Kansai style sukiyaki is sweet, whilst Kanto style is salty.
There is no Kyoto food guide without Kaiseki Kyoto
Kaiseki ryori is a multi-course dish and initially originated around the Japanese tea ceremonies. I found many Japanese restaurants in Kyoto selling kaiseki, although you can also enjoy them at most Ryokans or as part of a Maiko (apprentice geiko) evening. Expect to pay a good £30+ per person for a proper Kaiseki meal but in return, you will get an authentic Kyoto food experience.
Here's what you'll get in your typical kaiseki in Kyoto:
Shokuzen-shu - Shot of alchohol. This has to be the best starter for an awesome night
Bite-sized appetisers- A variety of lovely appetisers served on a hassun
Suimono - Soup with vegetables, seafood and/or tofu
Otsukuri - Fresh sashimi with daikon (Japanese reddish)
Nimono - Stewed veg with meat and seafood. They are usually cooked in sweet sauces
Yakimono - Grilled fish or meat (wagyu)
Agemono - Seafood and vegetable tempura
Mushimono - You will usually get chawanmushi, which is savoury egg custards which contain fish stock, mushroom, ginko nuts, seafood and chicken
Sunomono - Seafood dressed in vinegar
Rice - You can get either normal boiled rice or mugi gohan (rice with barley), okayu (rice porridge) or takenoko gohan (rice with bamboo shoots)
Tsukemono - Usually pickled vegetables such as takuan (pickled daikon radish), umeboshi (pickled plum) or hakusai no sokusekizuke (pickled Chinese cabbage)
Desert - We had sweet fruit for desert, although it not uncommon to receive sorbet or light fairy cake
Kyoto food on the go - Nishiki market
This is known as Kyoto's kitchen and it features several types of foods, including fresh seafood, sweets, pickles, dried goods, sushi and lots of matcha snacks.
Here's what to try:
Takotamago - Baby octopus on a stick with an egg in its head. Creepy, but delicious
Matcha Ice Cream - This green wonder is sure to refresh your day
Charcoal Ice Cream - This ice cream is grey coloured and has a very peculiar taste
Soy milk Doughnuts - I said doughnuts, the rest is history
Dango - Mochi like sweets on a stick with sugar and soy sauce
Potato Cake on a Stick
Matcha Flavoured Jellies
Fresh and Warm chestnuts
Powdered green tea rice cakes
Ōban-yaki or Imagawayaki - Japanese sweet cake filled with sweet azuki bean paste
Yatsuhashi - Sweet bean paste filled in baked strips of rice flour
Warabimochi - Jellied dipped in kinako (soybean flour) and sugar
Mochi - For the best mochi in Kyoto also try Shijo Dori which is foodie's paradise
Kyoto food in the Cube - Kyoto train station
Amongst many things, you can find delicious confectionary and souvenirs at the Kyoto Station. Make your way to the basement, located in the Cube. I recommend trying yummy cakes which not only look astonishing but taste so, so good. They were even better than anything I tried in Paris. I know, right?!
Kyoto Food Tip: if you want to save money, go to the supermarket located in the B1 of the Kyoto Station Cube section, but just before closing time. You will find a tremendous amount of discounted items, including fish, meat, dairy items, sweets and ready-made meals. We bought a ridiculous amount of items. Sometimes the best meal is the cheapest and the one you get to make yourself.
Kyoto Station Vie de France
We had breakfast here on many occasions actually. We loved the pastries, the taste of the bread and how greatly baked their desert are. Fair to say they don't have the best coffee in the world, but you should definitely try their pastry items. It's cheap, fresh and ridiculously good. I'm telling you, the Kyoto Station is the mecca for food.
More Kyoto food on the Shijo Dori street
You need to come here if you are interested in the best matcha tea parfait, weird plum jams, delicious Yatsuhashi, freshly made dangos, plum kombucha, mini meringue and many other things. Just mingle around and stuff your face with all food which looks good. I still stand by what I said: Shijo Dori is home to the best mochi in Kyoto.
Kyoto food or Kyoto drinks? Try Kissaagaru
Want to try some of Japan's best matcha tea sourced directly from Uji? Go to this lovely café and chill on the tatami whilst enjoying a made to perfection matcha latte. I can't imagine any better way to end your Kyoto food tour than by sitting in a quiet place with a cup of epic Japanese tea.
These were my favourite things to eat in Kyoto. What would you like to try in Kyoto? Let me know in the comment section below.
Want even more? Check out Tour de Lust's list of What to eat in Kyoto.