For a long time, Kyoto was the cultural centre of Japan, and as the culture of the city developed, so did it its culinary style. Instead of including plenty of fresh fish in their dishes like other Japanese cuisine, Kyoto cuisine tends to focus on using ingredients that are readily available locally. In general, the natural flavours of the ingredients are very important to Kyoto cuisine, and extra seasonings are kept to a minimum. Restaurants in Kyoto offer diners a rich culinary experience that is steeped in history with touches of modern practices and ingredients. If you are looking to enjoy traditional dishes from Kyoto, use our guide to figure out the first stop (and second, and third…) on your culinary adventure.
Kaiseki Ryori began as a part of the traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, but as years passed, the meal evolved into an elaborate dining style that was popular in affluent areas. Kyoto style kaiseki ryori is especially distinct, and the chefs who create these meals are dedicated to using only the freshest ingredients from local providers. Unlike other meals, a kaiseki ryori has a set order of courses that you will follow. If you will be in Kyoto and wish to try kaiseki ryori, try staying at a ryokan where the meal will be included in the cost of your stay. Or, if you prefer a higher-end experience, head to Pontocho and Gion neighbourhoods of Kyoto. Keep in mind, though, that a good kaiseki will cost upwards of $100 per person.
We owe Buddhist monks for many things, including the creation of shojin ryori. Because Buddhists were prohibited from taking the life of other creatures, the monks had to make due with a vegetarian diet. Therefore, shojin ryori is made of strictly vegetarian ingredients and is prepared to provide customers with a savoury and completely filling meal. More frequently than not, your shojin ryori will include tofu, a local speciality of Kyoto, and it’s so commonly included in the meal that sometimes you’ll see it listed on the menu as tofu ryori. This dish is less expensive than most, since there is no meat or seafood included. You can expect to pay between $15-$20 AUD. If this is your kind of meal, head to the Nansenji or Arashiyama neighbourhoods, as they are particularly well-known for their tofu.
Obanzai Ryori is a kind of traditional home cooking in Kyoto that consists of multiple small dishes that are simple in their preparation. Generally, locally produced ingredients are used in the dishes and the cooking methods are simple. The end result though, are very rich and fulfilling meals where skilled chefs have painstakingly brought out the natural flavours of the ingredients used. Most restaurants that serve obanzai ryori are relaxed and have a friendly atmosphere to welcome you into their “home”—a tie-in from the home style cooking used to create obanzai ryori. Costs for this meal will vary depending on what kind of dishes and how many dishes you order. Generally, you can count on it falling between $20 and $30AUD
Kawayuka (as it’s known in central Kyoto) and Kawadoko (as it’s known outside of that area) is a great pastime for those warm summer months. You will enjoy your meal on a temporary platform that is built over flowing water. This concept initially came as a solution to cooling off from heat of summer, and has since bloomed into one of the best ways to dine in Kyoto. Try heading along the Kamogawa River for a kaiseki meal –mentioned above--or other types of cuisine, depending on the place. This sort of terrace dining is very popular in the area, especially in the evenings and during holidays, so plan ahead with reservations if you’re hoping to enjoy a Kawayuka meal.
Feel your stomach rumbling already? Book your holiday trip to Kyoto today and include a travel insurance policy from Cover-More for a fully-covered holiday. With a Cover-More policy you can focus on the food and the dining opportunities instead of the worries and stresses of international travel.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Andrea Schaffer.