Kyoto is where traditional culinary culture has blossomed, and you can enjoy a taste of history with Japanese course meals (kaiseki ryori) developed as part of a traditional tea ceremony (chanoyu), along with vegetarian dishes (shojin ryori) influenced by Chinese Buddhism. 

    The town's local cuisine (Kyo-ryori) is colourful and beautiful to look at as it's elegantly produced by the expertise of Japanese cooks. Everyone should experience authentic Japanese cuisine in the dignified atmosphere of Kyoto at least once in their lifetime. Of course, you can enjoy delicious food at affordable prices. We've listed some of the best local delicacies and budget-friendly goodies that the people of Kyoto enjoy every day, including ramen noodles and Kyoto-style home cooking (obanzai).


    Traditional Kyoto-style course meals (Kyo kaiseki)

    Kyo kaiseki is served on occasions such as chaji, a formal multi-course dinner followed by tea ceremony, or chakai which is a light meal or sweets accompanied with tea. It originated from the traditional tea ceremony, where guests are welcomed with a light meal before offered with a thick and strong tea that might upset an empty stomach. 

    In Kyoto, you can enjoy a variety of kyo kaiseki at many restaurants, including creative multi-course dishes with Kyoto vegetables and river fish. If you want to dip into refined and elegant kyo kaiseki, it’s best to start with a lunch. What better place to try the genuine essence of Japanese cuisine – washoku – than here in its birthplace? 

    photo by Hiroyuki Hosokawa (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Soba noodles with dried herring (nishin soba)

    In Kyoto, nishin soba is the go-to noodle dish on New Year’s Eve (toshikoshi soba). Kyoto is far from the sea, so dried fish such as dried herrings (migaki nishin) from Hokkaido transported by cargo ship (kitamae bune) were a precious source of nutrition. This is the background to the development of dishes carefully prepared with dried fish. 

    One such dish is nishin soba, buckwheat noodles in a hot broth topped with sweetened and very tender herrings simmered for several days. Invented by a tearoom attached to a theatre nearby Gion in 1882, this dish was served to customers who came to see kabuki plays.

    photo by MIKI Yoshihito (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Buddhist vegetarian cuisine (shojin ryori)

    There are many varieties of vegetarian cuisine in Kyoto, but the pick of the bunch is shojin ryori, which was developed in the temples of Zen Buddhism and deeply influenced by Chinese Buddhism. All animal-based ingredients and vegetables with a strong smell – garlic, green onion, Chinese chives, onions, and Japanese scallion – are strictly off the menu. 

    Many temples in Kyoto offer shojin ryori set menus, including Torin-In and Taizo-In, the sub-temples of Myoshinji, as well as Tenryu-Ji, Manpuku-Ji, Ryoan-Ji, and Chishaku-In. Teppatsu ryori is a particularly rare type of shojin ryori that's served with a plate shaped like the bowl often used by Zen monks to collect alms.

    photo by 663highland (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Boiled tofu (yu dofu)

    In the cold of winter, yu dofu (boiled bean curd) really hits the spot. You can find many Yu Dofu speciality restaurants in front of the gates of Nanzen-Ji, where locals say this dish originated from. Tofu mainly consists of water, so thankfully, Kyoto's groundwater and spring water is mild and soft, which is excellent for drawing out its delicate and rich taste. 

    Yu dofu is made by pouring water into a pot laid with kombu (kelp), in which the tofu is then simmered to produce a super-healthy dish that's rich in flavour. This traditional method of cooking takes a lot of effort, but the results speak for themselves.

    photo by Odyssey (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Kyoto-style home cooking (obanzai)

    Obanzai is a home-cooking style dish that uses every last scrap of seasonal ingredients, like Kyoto vegetables (Kyo-yasai), usually seasoned with dashi stock. It’s understandable if you feel a bit hesitant about going to a high-end traditional restaurant (ryotei) or trying kaiseki ryori, since these are not exactly familiar – and cheap – experiences. 

    Obanzai is an excellent dish if you want to enjoy delicious Kyoto cuisine at affordable prices. It's packed full of very healthy yet tasty fresh Kyoto vegetables, beans and dried foods. Many Obanzai restaurants offer these dishes on platters lined up on a counter, so you can choose whatever you fancy. 

    photo by Washoku Press (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Kuzu starch noodles (kuzukiri)

    Kuzukiri is Kyoto’s quintessential summer confectionery. The typical way to eat it is by slurping the thin and long noodles, made purely from arrowroot starch grown in Yoshino and fresh water, together with a rich brown sugar syrup. And you’d better be quick, because kuzukiri is at its best only for 15 minutes after it has been made! 

    Transparent and refreshing to look at, kuzukiri is a symbol of Japanese summer. Popular shops are often packed with queuing customers on weekends and during the high season, so be prepared to wait your turn to sample this unique confectionery.

    photo by uemura (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Beef cutlet (gyu katsu)

    In the food culture of the Kansai area, people tend to prefer beef to pork - in fact, the word 'meat' typically means beef in this region. Beef cutlet (gyu katsu) is a dish that has become popular in the Kanto region, too. This local gourmet food from Kyoto is perfected by being cooked until medium-rare. Thickly sliced and covered with fine bread crumbs, the cutlets are then fried rapidly in fresh oil. Some restaurants even let you choose your favourite cuts of beef. People typically enjoy this dish with Japanese seasonings or spices, such as soy sauce with wasabi, salt with Japanese pepper (sansho), and grated Japanese radish.

    photo by bryan... (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Mackerel sushi (sabazushi)

    Mackerel sushi (sabazushi) is the quintessential sushi of Kyoto. Given Kyoto’s distance from the sea, mackerel fished in Wakasa Bay were first marinated with salt before it's transported to Kyoto, taking a whole day to pass through the route called Mackerel Road (Saba Kaido). 

    Sabazushi is made with an entire fillet of salted mackerel. While the food preservation technique was advanced, sabazushi is still present today as something of a special dish. There is a long-established restaurant in Gion that is said to be the origin of mackerel sushi. You can also find it all over Kyoto, including at the Nishiki-Ichiba Market, as well as at stations and department stores.

    photo by MemColorLab (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Kyoto ramen

    Kyoto ramen is characterised by its rich taste that comes from the use of pork back fat. According to Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, there are 3 main ways to make ramen – with a pork-based soup that has a strong soy sauce flavour, with a chicken-based soup stewed with vegetables, and with a chicken broth soup with plenty of pork back fat. 

    All of these are the rich type (kotteri) of ramen. If you're taking a stroll around town, you'll inevitably see the colourful banners and signs of ramen shops. Kyoto is the right place to find your favourite ramen dish during your holiday.

    photo by Yusuke Kawasaki (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Conger eel (hamo)

    Conger eel (hamo) is usually at the top of the list of delicacies that's often eaten during Kyoto's harsh summer. The white meat is refined and delicious, but it has lots of small bones, so a special bone-cutting (hone-kiri) preparation is necessary. The meat is finely cut with a knife while the surface skin is left uncut. Hone-kiri determines the taste of a dish – it’s an important technique that requires the skill of a chef. 

    Kyoto’s traditional summertime Gion Festival also goes by the name of the Conger Eel Festival (Hamo-Matsuri). Conger eel is typically served in shabu-shabu form or parboiled with pickled plum paste in a dish called hamo-no-otoshi.

    photo by Nullumayulife (CC BY 2.0) modified

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