Food of Japan – Part 3: Kyoto

In the last two installments, I covered most of the food that I came across in Tokyo. On Friday morning, we departed for Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan. After a two and a half hour ride on the Shinkansen and settling into our hotel, we decided to venture out and find some dinner. There wasn’t much in terms of restaurants around our hotel and we ended up wandering some of the neighborhood streets. We eventually stumbled upon a local street festival, filled with all sorts of tasty goodies! Excuse the quality of the photos, I only had my cell phone camera on me at this point in time. 😦

Party time!

The neatest part about the festival was that it was for the locals, by the locals. We were probably the only tourists around, so there were a lot of really interesting things to look at.

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This particular stand was selling okonomiyaki. This was more of a mass production and made to order. Still pretty tasty! I settled for a couple other items that night, including some grilled chicken giblets, a “Jell-O coffee” drink, some chicken skewers, and a helping of dango. I also came across what I can only describe as tofu donuts. It’s made from the outer skin of the tofu curds (which is usually discarded before packaging) that is ground up and deep fried. It has the look and consistency of a cider donut. Since the skin is naturally sweet, it made for a great dessert!

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The grilled squid on a stick also looked pretty interesting, however I didn’t quite feel in the mood to try it. We did see a couple kids running around holding them and munching as they went. I love coming across things like this, as it’s more of a real taste of local culture.

The day was filled with walking. To make sure we didn’t run out of steam, we stopped at the bottom of Fushimi Inari Shrine for some breakfast. Since we were in the presence of the fox god, I thought it would be fitting to have two kinds of food that bear his namesake: kitsune udon and inari sushi. The restaurant itself was a small shop with about a dozen tables. It also looked like it had a small banquet room in the back and a quaint little garden.

Kitsune udon

Since we were the only ones in the restaurant, the food came out pretty quick. For the main course, I decided to try my hands at kitsune udon. It’s served with some sweet deep fried tofu (called Aburaage) and broth. The cup next to the bowl is actually tea, which was served chilled. I really enjoyed the difference in texture between the tofu and noodles, and ended up drinking most of the broth as well.

Inari Sushi

We also shared an order of inari sushi, which (in it’s simplest form) a stuffed sushi. The outer wrapping is fried tofu and is filled with sushi rice. Like the Aburaage used in the udon, the wrapping has a slightly sweet taste that compliments the sliced ginger quite well.

Fortunately, the early day meal did keep us going on the full day of walking and temple visits. By the time dinner rolled around, we were ready for more. Our native Japanese speaker got us reservations at a pretty well known tofu restaurant in the area. While this doesn’t sound particularly interesting (especially to Westerners), tofu is made into a variety of things. We each ordered the the recommended five course meal and got a wide variety of things at the table! Once again, I only had my cell phone, so picture quality suffered a bit…

AlleywayMind your head!

The restaurant itself was in a little alleyway and featured traditional-style seating.

There was also a lot of “I’m not quite sure what it is, but it is tasty!” feel that night. I think I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves!

 Appetizer

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As a part of our meal, we got boiled tofu to share. Fresh tofu (middle) was put into an electric hotpot (left) and left to warm for about 10 minutes. There was also some spinach in the boiler, which made for a nice contrast in flavors (right).

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Chilled tofu with cucumbers, seaweed, and greens. The stuff underneath it is actually shaved ice.

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A sweet soy drink with pieces of tofu in it. Yummy!

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Tofu on a stick, because everything tastes better on a stick!

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This is actually fried tofu skin (served tempura style), similar to what was used in the aforementioned tofu donut.

Main Course

The “main course",” consisting of rice, miso soup tea, poached egg, and veggies. The egg was meant to be mixed in with the rice and eaten along with the veggies.

Dessert

Here’s dessert. I don’t remember what kind of ice cream this was, but it certainly wasn’t tofu flavored!

At long last, my culinary adventure in Japan had come to an end. After our healthy meal of tofu, it was time to pack up and get on a plane to fly back to the United States. The airline food was OK (Continental airlines still does some decent in-flight cuisine!) and picked up some chicken nuggets when I got into Newark. Looking back, it seems like that was a pretty big departure of what I experience in Japan.

Why do I suddenly crave some good ramen and miso soup?

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