One common element among the specialty food in Kyoto is that they taste delicate and pure. This is due to two factors:
(a) the pristine waters in Kyoto (any food that requires water like sake and tofu will taste excellent);
and (b) since Kyoto served as Japan’s capital for more than a thousand years, the food here has been made intricate for royalty.
That said, food in Kyoto is rather expensive so save up before you visit.
There are 55 Arabica Coffee outlets in 13 countries including Singapore. But the coffee chain originated in Kyoto, so it’s worth trying a cuppa here. The coffee is really fantastic, complex with depth, roasted just right, well-balanced, but not overwhelming.
If you are a hipster and find Arabica too common, try Here Coffee Kyoto (524 Anenishinotoincho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8273, Japan; +81-75-254-8260; 8am – 7pm daily; instagram). It’s by the same founder of Arabica Coffee, Junichi Yamaguchi.
Kaiseki, the highest form of Japanese cuisine, is served as a series of courses, using seasonal and locally-sourced ingredients. The food should be well balanced, and not extreme. The courses usually include soup, sashimi, a simmered dish, grilled dish, etc.
Be prepared to pay for kaiseki; the restaurants are almost always fine dining and a kaiseki meal can cost up to ¥30000 (S$400). Reservations are a must.
–En 縁 (Tatsumae-cho 589 (South of Karasuma Ichijo Intersection), Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto; +81-75-411-1822; 12pm – 1pm, 6pm – 9pm, closed Th)
–Gion Owatari (570-264 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0074, Japan; +81-75-551-5252; 6pm – 9pm, closed Mon)
–Aji Fukushima (570 Gionmachi Minamigawa, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0074, Japan; +81-75-561-4848; 11.30am – 1pm, 5pm – 8pm, closed Sun)
–Tankuma Kitamise Honten (355, Kamiya-cho, Shijyo-agaru, Nishi Kiyamachi-dori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto; 12pm – 3pm, 5.30pm – 10pm)
–Kappo Chihiro (279-8, Gionmachi-Kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto; +81-75-561-6790; 12pm – 1pm, 5pm – 8.30pm, closed Mon)
–Kyoto Gion Kawamura Ryori Hei (347-96 Gionmachi-kitagawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto city, Kyoto; +81-50-3467-6795; 11.30am – 3pm, 5pm – 11pm)
–Jiki Miyazawa (553-1 Yaoyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8123, Japan; +81-75-213-1326; 12pm – 1.45pm, 5.30pm – 8pm, closed Th)
–Kichisen (5 Tadasu-no-mori (Morimoto-cho), Shimogamo, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-711-6121; 12pm – 2.30pm, 6pm – 10pm)
–Hyotei (35 Nanzenji Kusakawacho, Sakyo Ward, Kyoto, 606-8437, Japan; +81-75-771-4116; 11am – 11pm)
–Nakamura (136 Matsushitacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8093, Japan; +81-75-221-5511; 12pm – 2pm, 5pm – 7.30pm, closed Sun)
–Gion Nishikawa (473 Shimogawaracho Shimogawaradori Yasakatoriimae Sagaru, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto; +81-75-525-1776; 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm, closed Sun)
Kushikatsu is deep-fried skewers using different ingredients from meat to vegetable. Although it originated in Osaka, kushikatsu is also very popular in Kyoto.
–Kushi Tanaka 串たなか (310-10 Uradeyama-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-222-0054; 5.30pm – 10.30pm)
–Kushi Tabito 串 たびと (10-38 Kamigamo-imaigawaracho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-701-9417)
–Kushiage Toshico 串揚げ (11-1 Shimogamohommachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-724-1045; 5.30pm – 10pm)
Wagashi is a general term for “sweets” and “Kyo” is short for “Kyoto.” Some wagashi shops in Kyoto go all the way back to 1700s. Most of them are plant-based so wagashi is vegan-friendly. Each wagashi shop serves different specialities so you can visit them all.
I visited two wagashi shops, Kagizen Yoshifusa and Toraya Karyo Ichijo, and both were brilliant. For a detailed writeup of wagashi and shop recommendations, click here.
Matcha is tea leaves ground into powder then added with water. It’s more intense than normal tea and can come across as bitter. Matcha is usually drunk with wagashi (see #4).
You can drink it anywhere but I find matcha at wagashi shops is better than elsewhere.
Obanzai refers home-style Kyoto food, with at least 50% of seasonal ingredients sourced in Kyoto.
–Hokkoriya ほっこりや (2F, New Toyo Kaikan, 180-2 Zaimokucho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-213-2250; 5pm – 9.30pm)
–Utakata うたかた (53 Shichikunishi-momonomotocho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-495-3344; 6pm – 10.30pm)
–Totoya Uocho とゝや 魚長 (1 Tsukimicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-561-4346; 5.30pm – 10pm)
–Pontocho Masuda 先斗町 ますだ (200 Shimokorikicho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-221-6816; 5pm – 10pm, closed Sun)
–Wasabi 和さび (10-3 Murasakino-miyahigashicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-441-8388; 5pm – 10pm)
–Oryori Menami 御料理 めなみ (96 Nakajimacho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-231-1095; 5pm – 11pm)
The exact origin of sake (rice wine) is unknown although the oldest known sake brewery in Japan was founded in the 15th century near an area that was owned by Tenryū-ji temple in Kyoto.
Sake is especially good in Kyoto because one of the main ingredients for the beverage is water and water is especially sweet in Kyoto. Ask the restaurant to recommend you a local brewery’s sake.
8. SHOJIN RYORI
Vegetarians, rejoice! Rare as it is to find vegetarian Japanese food, “shojin ryori” means meatless Buddhist cuisine which originated from Kyoto. I wrote a detailed review on Shigetsu, a restaurant within the Tenryuji Temple, and it was stellar. PS: do you know Zen Buddhist can drink alcohol? One of the dishes was soaked in whiskey.
Like sake, making good soba (buckwheat noodles) requires good water.
We visited Teuchisoba Kanei 手打ち蕎麦 かね井, which serves amazing duck soba and atrocious service. When I posted the review, readers tell me that they experience similar bad service. I’d recommend you to go to other soba restaurants:
–Ogawa おがわ (25 Shichiku-Shimoshibamotocho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-495-8281; 11.30am – 3pm)
–Teuchi Soba Hanamomo 手打ち 花もも (398 Kombuyacho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-212-7787; 11am – 6.30pm)
–Soba Rojina 蕎麦 ろうじな (691 Maruyacho, Ebisugawa-dori Teramachi Nishi-iru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-286-9242; 11.30am – 2.30pm, 5.30pm – 8.30pm)
–Itsutsu 五 (28 Murasakino-unrinincho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-494-0500; 11.30am – 3.30pm, 5.30pm – 10pm)
–Zingrock じん六 (67 Kamigamo-sakuraicho, Kita-ku, Kyoto; +81-75-711-6494; 11.45am – 5pm)
–Juu-go 十五 (71-6 Jodoji-kamiminamidacho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto; 10am – 5pm)
10. TOFU, YUDOFU, AND YUBA
Good water, good tofu and its derivatives (bet you didn’t expect to meet the word “derivatives” after your A Levels maths). Yudofu is simply tofu in a hotpot and Yuba is beancurd skin. Unlike tofu where you add a coagulant, yuba is done by scooping the surface layer of simmering soybean juice.
Bonus: these restaurants tend to be vegan- and vegetarian-friendly. They do serve a little meat but you can ask them to exclude the meat.
We visited Yuba Ryori Higashiyama Yuuzu which is amazing. I highly recommend it.
–Nanzenji Junsei (60 Nanzenji Kusakawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 606-8437; +81-75-761-2311; 11am – 8pm)
–Yudofu Sagano (45 Susukinobana-cho, SagaTenryu-ji, Ukyo-ku; +81-75-871-6946; 11am – 7pm)
–Tosuiro Kiyamachi Honten (517-3, Kamiosakamachi, Sanjo Agaru Kiyamachi St, Nakagyo-Ku, Kyoto-Shi; +81-75-251-1600; 11.30am – 3pm, 5pm – 10pm)
–Toyouke Chaya とようけ茶屋 (822 Kamiyagawa-cho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture; +81 75-462-3662; 11am – 3pm)
To summarise the 10 Must Eat Food in Kyoto:
1. Arabica Coffee
8. Shojin Ryori
10. Tofu, Yudofu, and Yuba
You may be interested in…
–5 Must Eat Food in Osaka and Where to Find Them
–Where to eat Kobe Beef in Kobe Japan: Kobe Beef KISSHOKICHI 神戸牛吉祥吉
–Where to Stay in Kyoto, Japan: Hotel Vischio Kyoto Review
–Where to Stay in Osaka: Review of Hotel Gracery Osaka Namba
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.