Kyoto is our favourite place to eat in Japan. Japanese food in Kyoto is a little different from the rest of the country, and Kyoto food is out of this world. Kyoto cuisine is known for its traditional Japanese ingredients like tofu, matcha and kudzu.
On our trip to Kyoto we tried so much food including green tea noodles, delicious matcha ice cream, sat down for traditional kaiseki and enjoyed traditional Kyoto sushi.
Kyoto is renowned for its kaiseki cuisine, a multi course Japanese dinner which normally consists of an appetiser, sashimi, cooked dishes, a rice course, palate cleanser and a sublime dessert.
If you're looking for a more casual approach to food, Kyoto won't disappoint. Venture to Nishiki Market for fresh and delicious street food, eat the best ramen in small restaurants and try small fried plates with beer in an izakaya.
In a nutshell, yes, Kyoto has incredible food, so good, that it's home to over 200 restaurants on the list of Michelin Book. Kyoto is also home to the century-old Kikunoi restaurant ran by Chef Yoshihiro Murata, only chef in the world to hold seven Michelin stars.
Best Kyoto food highlights: 1)Delicious fresh tofu; 2) Ramen bowl from Ichiran restaurant; 3) Grilled Japanese rice sweets; 4) An array of bite size snacks from Nishiri Market; 5) Traditional Kaiseki dinner; 6) Tonkatsu with rice, miso and shredded cabbage; 7) Yakitori skewers; 8) Traditional Yatsuhashi
Before we get started, don't forget to check how to behave in a Japanese restaurant. Familiarise yourself with the manners and etiquette.
Excited about visiting Kyoto? Here our Kyoto food guide, which includes everything you need to eat in Kyoto, plus a Kyoto restaurant guide to ensure you find the best local dishes.
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Kyoto is known for the best tofu thanks to its abundance of clear and high quality soft water. Tofu is high in protein and made with soybeans and 90% water. On its own, tofu has a delicate, slightly sweet taste. It's especially important in the Buddhist temple cuisine called shojin ryori.
We recommend trying yuba dishes made with tofu skin. It's made by heating soy milk. It's famous in Kyoto cuisine, and some even consider it a delicatessen.
Don't miss boiled tofu dishes, a simple yet delicious Japanese food in Kyoto with kombu seaweed.
While many restaurants include tofu dishes on their menu, there are a few which we tried and recommend.
- Junsei Kyoto - Enjoy the culture and tradition of tofu in Kyoto at this traditional restaurants. Junsei specialises in tofu kaiseki served in a historic Edo-era medical school with stunning gardens. Reserve your table online.
Address: Japan, 〒606-8437 Kyoto, Sakyo Ward, Nanzenji Kusakawacho, ６
- Tousuiro Kyoto - Enjoy tofo in a well preserved traditional house from Taisho ero. You'll eat oboro tofu, freshly dipped yuba and seasonal ingredients.
Address: Japan, 〒604-8001 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 木屋町通三条上る上大阪町517-3
Kyoto style ramen is a soup made with rich broth made from chicken and pork bones with soy sauce. It's topped with noddles, slices of melt-in-the-mouth meat and vegetables. Ramen plays an essential role in Japanese cuisine but let us tell you that in Kyoto, it actually tastes a little different.
The ramen here is made with more traditional ingredients, but that only makes it more special and delicious. There are a few ramen places you should try during your time in the old capital. Here are 3 restaurants known forsome of the best ramen in Kyoto.
- Ginjo Ramen Kubota - Expect a small diner with just a few counter seats. We recommend trying the tsukemen noodles (dipping ramen). Purchase your ticket from the vending machine before waiting in line. The staff will take the ticket and you will be served your delicious food.
Address: 563-2 Nishimatsuyacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8326, Japan
- Ichiran Kyoto - A staple in Japan, Ichiran has many ramen restaurants dotted all around the country. But since it's our favourite spicy broth, we must recommend it during any trip to Kyoto as well.
Address: 598 Uraderacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8041, Japan
- Ramen Sen-no-Kaze Kyoto - For a delicious creamy ramen broth, look no further than Ramen Sen-no-Kaze Kyoto. Try the pork or seafood based broth with a side of gyoza. This ramen shop is popular, so you might need to a wait in a queue for it.
Address: 580 Nakanocho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8042, Japan
- Honke Daiichi-Asahi - A 1947 ramen restaurant with a delicious soy based broth you're going to love. This ramen restaurant is closo to Kyoto station and usually recognisable by its very ling line outside. Expect Grilled pork, noodles, soy sauce, Kujo green onions, mung bean sprouts on your perfect soup.
Address: 845 Higashishiokoji Mukaihatacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8213, Japan
Kyoto's cuisine is kaiseki cuisine. And there's no better place to try an authentic multi course Japanese dinner than in the place of its origin: Kyoto. A kaiseki is similar to a tasting menu in a Michelin star restaurant. You'll receive small portions of various dishes made to look stunning and to taste incredible.
There are many Kyoto restaurants which offer a variety of Kaiseki meals during lunch or dinner. And we highly recommend that you book at least one to try it out.
Good to know: Kaiseki meals are on the expensive side, especially in Kyoto. If you're seeking a budget alternative, we recommend booking your kaiseki during lunch, when prices are more affordable.
Traditionally, Kaiseki consists of nine courses although some restaurants offer anywhere from 6 to 15 courses including appetisers and desserts. It's the best way to indulge in local specialities. Normally, a restaurant specializes in Kaiseki and Kaiseki alone.
We went to several Kaiseki restaurants and there are a few we'd love to recommend.
- Hanasaki manjiro - This is our favourite restaurant for high end kaiseki in Kyoto. You'll dine in a period house with tatami floors and if you reserve a meal of over 10,000 yen ($70 per person) you could opt for a private room. Private rooms are limited, and we recommend booking yours well in advance. We especially love it that this restaurant can arrange for a maiko private dinner for an extra special celebration.
Address: 518 Washiocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0072
- Kikunoi restaurant - This is by far the best option for Kyoto if your budget allows it. A 3 Michelin star restaurant ran by chef Yoshihiro Murata, known to be the only one in the world with 7 Michelin stars. You can expect the absolute best meal, with exquisite presentation in one of the most beautiful private rooms with tatami and garden view. It goes without that it usually books 2 months in advance. Reserve your table via Tableall.
Adress: 〒605-0825 Kyoto, Higashiyama Ward, Shimokawaracho, 459
- Sakuragawa - Expect fantastic hospitality and beautiful seasonal ingredients. You'll love how every dish is made with so much skill and perfection. The presentation is incredible and the food is exquisite. What makes this restaurant stand out for us is that you can enjoy the food preparation at the counter. The counter is considered sacred, btw, and in this restaurant is hand made from Japanese cypress.
Address: 491 Kamikorikicho, Nakagyo Ward, 京都市中京区 Kyoto 604-0923
Kyoto has its own variation of the classic Japanese dish, sushi. Kyoto style sushi is called Kyozushi, a sweet style of sushi. This type of sushi is eaten without any soy sauce.
One of our favourite local specialties is saba sushi. Saba means mackrel and combined with sushi rice is a phenomenal dish. But there's history to this dish too. Back in the days, Kyoto didn't have access to fresh fish without it being imported from other parts of the country. Fresh mackerel was covered in salt to last the trip from the north to Kyoto. And thus, saba sushi was created.
Nowadays, raw fish is cured on vinegar flavoured rice and wrapped in seaweed. There are many sushi places which sell saba sushi. And We're here to tell you which ones are our favourites.
- Sushi no Musashi - Our absolute best place to eat in Kyoto. We had times when we took a whole day trip to Kyoto just to eat at this restaurant. This is a sushi train type of sushi restaurant but with some of the best variety of shellfish. There's always a queue but it's so worth it. Enjoy your sushi with some green tea and miso soup.
Address: 〒600-8214 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Higashishiokoji Takakuracho, 8-3
- Tomisen - For your authentic kyoto sushi, this is the place to visit for lunch. You'll be served high quality raw fish with fantastic presentation. We highly recommend asking your hotel to book you a table at this restaurant. In our opinion, you have to try the unagi (regular nigiri sushi), the cockle and salmon roe sushi.
Address: 〒600-8232 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, 木津屋橋通油小路東入南町576−4−2
- Kikyo Sushi - An authentic family run sushi restaurant. A little off the beaten path which makes it so great for those with curious minds and large sushi appetites. Want something truly unique? Ask for "omakase" which means "I'll leave it up to you" and be surprised by what the chef prepares for you. This enables you to trust the chef that they will create custom sushi for you.
Address: Japan, 〒604-0071 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 大文字町43
Japanese tea ceremony
Can we agree that no Kyoto food guide is complete without a proper Japanese tea ceremony? It's not just a culinary activity, but a cultural activity too. Some tea houses will dress you in a kimono and show you the preparation of matcha tea and presentation.
Along your green tea you will receive wagashi, traditional Japanese confectionary made of mochi, anko and fruit. Wagashi making is considered an art form.
We highly recommend booking your Japanese green tea ceremony in advance. It's very popular with tourists. We enjoyed a private tea ceremony during our time in Kyoto but there are other options for groups, where you get to save on the ticket.
Japanese cuisine is all about noodles and Kyoto food has plenty of noodles too. Noodles are a must eat in Kyoto and there are so many varieties you will get to try. Our favourites are soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles) usually served with tsuyu dipping sauce on the side.
Udon noodles are made from wheat flour, often served in dashi soup. For an authentic Kyoto noodle dish we recommend Nishin Soba, a bowl of buckwheat noodles served with dried herring summered in soy sauce, mirin and a touch of sugar. It's typically topped with green onion.
- Sobanomi Yoshimura - A fantastic spot, popular with locals, so you just know the food will be delicious. You can even watch the chefs make soba from scratch. We recommend trying the soba with tempura. Finish the meal with soba ice for dessert.
Address: 420 Matsuyacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8105
Green tea desserts
I'm here to tell you to eat everything matcha flavoured in Kyoto. Some of our favourite places for finding matcha sweets and matcha ice cream is Shijo-Dori, a whole street lined with local food. We normally recommend adding Shijo-Dori to your Kyoto itinerary, because the food is usually so good.
Another brilliant place to try matcha sweets is at Fushimi Inari Shrine. The approach towards the shrine is full of street food which needs to be tried. You absolutely need to try the matcha ice cream, which is bitter sweet but so gorgeous.
Insider tip: Head to Isetan Department Store in Kyoto station and go to the food floor. You'll find an array of matcha sweets which look (and taste fantastic). They are perfect as Japanese souvenirs, too.
Tsukemono Pickles are Japanese preserved vegetables usually served with rice (as okazu), with drinks (as otsumami) or as a garnish in Kaiseki meals. They might go unoticed but in reality, these delicious pickled vegetables are pickled in salt, soy sauce, miso and sake lees. Unlike western pickles, Tsukemono don't contain any vinegar.
All of these sound unfamiliar? Don't worry, you've actually already tried a type of Tsukemono. Gari (pickled ginger), is a palate cleanser served alongside sushi.
Our favourite Tsukemono we tried in Kyoto was umeboshi, pickled plums known to be fairly salty and acidic. Try it with a side of onigiri (rice balls wrapped in nori).
Good to know: Buy Tsukemono at Murakami-Ju Honten, a shop famous for pickled sliced daikon. Nishiri Market is also a fantastic placer for finding Tsukemono in vacuum sealed bags, ideal to even bring home with you.
Yatsuhashi is mainly sold as a souvenir snack but nothing should stop you from eating as much Yatsuhashi as you can while in Kyoto. Yatsuhashi is made from rice flour, sugar, and cinnamon with red bean paste inside.
Every souvenir shop sells Yatsuhashi because it's the most famous regional product from Kyoto. You can purchase it everywhere in Kyoto, and you will definitely find it at the airport gift shops too.
For authentic and delicious Yatsuhashi we recommend visiting the Izutsu Yatsuhashi Honkanwhich has been a Yatsuhashi maker since 1805.
We're getting to one of the best food in Kyoto: tonkatsu, a Japanese dish that consists of breaded deep-fried pork cutlet served with rice, miso and shredded cabbage.
The meat is usually so perfect, it melts in the mouth, and the crispy exterior is so satisfying thanks to the panko breadcrumbs. It's perfectly balanced with the shredded cabbage, miso and delicious rice.
Good to know: Most restaurants which sell tonkatsu offer a free top up of miso, rice and cabbage.
- Katsukura - We highly recommend that you try Katsukura located in the Kyoto station. It's one of the best tonkatsu we've tried in Kyoto. Now it's worth noting that Katsukura is a popular restaurant so expect some queues.
How to get here: South-West side of Kyoto Station, 11th floor in the Cube at the very back.
- Tonkatsu Ichiban - This restaurant is special because it offers tonkatsu made from Yonezawa pork, which come from Yamagata Prefecture known for its mountains, hot springs and temples. They have been in business for 60 years now and are a 3 generation family run business.
Address: 403 Teppocho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8265, Japan
Small bites at Nishiki market
No Kyoto food guide is complete without recommendations for street food at Nishiki market. It's often called Kyoto's kitchen and well known for local foods. We recommend getting a local guide to show you around and help you pick delicious foods.
But don't worry, you can do Nishiki market on your own. Here are some of the foods we recommend you try.
- Takotamago - Baby octopus on a stick with an egg in its head.
- Charcoal Ice Cream - Try bamboo charcoal ice cream, known to help with purifying and self-healing due to its detoxifying abilities.
- Soy milk Doughnuts - Expect chewy delights on the inside with a slightly crunchier exterior.
- Dango - Try these skewered rice cakes covered in a sweet, sticky soy sauce glaze. They originate from Kamo Mitarashi Tea House in Kyoto.
- Matcha kakigōri - Matcha flavoured shaved ice
- Ōban-yaki or Imagawayaki - Japanese sweet cake filled with sweet azuki bean paste.
- Warabimochi - Jellied dipped in kinako (soybean flour) and sugar
- Conger eel - Try Hamo Tempura in Uoriki, a small restaurant opened in 1919.
There's something really charming about visiting a small izakaya in Kyoto searching for the best yakitori (fried chicken skewers). We recommend enjoying your yakitori with a side of Japanese beer and spark a conversation with a local. Most izakayas and yakitori restaurants are small. But that's part of the fun as you will be in a small place surrounded by locals. Order a drink and see the local culture in full bloom.
- Kurakura - Try Kurakura, an izakaya restaurant that serves great drinks, fantastic skewers and of course, delivers a good authentic atmosphere. It's a superb location in a renovated Taisho era brewery. We recommend the lotus root tempura
Address: 〒600-8148 Kyoto, Shimogyo Ward, Ameyacho, 244, 木村ビル
- Onikai - Another fantastic Kyoto izakaya option that focuses on vegetables and some meats. The only place we found to serve fried potato. You must try their cocktails which focus on vegetables as well.
Address: 〒604-8026 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, Komeyacho, 388 二階
As you can see, there are lots of delicious food in Kyoto, and you will have a lot of fun trying it all. With so much to eat in Kyoto, it's obviously a great place for enjoying a holiday in Japan. We recommend Kyoto as part of our 2 weeks in Japan itinerary.