If I had to decide between Kyoto and Tokyo for food, I’d pick the latter. I know L prefers Kyoto for its natural scenery, but I found Tokyo more foreigner-friendly and the options for eating out were endless. Plus, it seemed like Kyoto residents were more annoyed with the huge influx of tourism than Tokyo residents. Below are some of the places we checked out in Kyoto. Let’s start with my favourite bowl of ramen in Japan.
L and I found this gem last year in the town of Otsu, near Zeze station. We returned again in 2018 to see if the ramen was as good as we remembered. From the outside, there’s no obvious signage. I don’t know the name of the shop, as it’s written in Japanese characters.
A basic bowl of tonkatsu ramen will you cost 780 Yen. I didn’t realize I had to order the egg in addition to the ramen. By the time my bowl came out, it was too late. Dang it.
The broth was served steaming hot. The broth was rich and velvety. The noodles were silky but still had a bite to it. I tried my hardest to not drink any of the broth. I had to save my calories for the chicken karrage.
This restaurant also serves up some of the best chicken karrage I’ve eaten ever. And I’ve consumed a lot. It’s cheap too – we received four huge chunks of juicy, marinated chicken still sizzling from the fryer for only 500 Yen. The batter was golden brown, not greasy and so crunchy the skin crackled into tiny shards in my mouth.
I took L to the famous Ippodu Tea House. We shopped in the store for gifts to bring back home. We also ventured into the tea room to try matcha and green tea with roasted rice. We each tried two teas and dessert for 790 Yen. There was a group of Japanese locals that offered to take our picture.
Not sure if I’d bother to have another tasting as it wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’ll return next year to stock up on tea to bring back as gifts. The tea bags were light in my suitcase, and help to protect my valuable cargo of sake.
Pastamore is located in Kyoto Station. This was our first western meal in 18 days. The food here is tasty and well-priced. Nothing fancy, much better than the Spaghetti Factory but not nearly as good as Cotto Italian Comfort Food in Calgary. The deal here is you pay for one price, but you can get a medium, large or extra-large portion of pasta. I figured out by looking at the dishes coming out of the kitchen that the cook uses the same amount of sauce for each order. So if you order an extra large dish of pasta, it has the same amount of sauce that a medium or large order would contain.
L and I each ordered a large because we were hungry and our server told us that generally, only women ordered the medium size. Well I don’t eat like a woman, particularly not a dainty Japanese lady. L picked fried eggplant and bacon. I ordered the lobster bisque with shrimp. Our dishes were around 1200 Yen. The pasta was al dente. I liked my pasta over L’s fried eggplant. His dish was larger and heartier but I thought the flavour of the bisque was superior to his tomato sauce. If you have a lighter appetite, get the medium size dish. I was starving and the large size was too much for me.
I also ordered a small Japanese style Caesar salad for 200 Yen. The egg was semi-solid and when I broke it open, the yolk mixed well with the lettuce. The dressing was delicious. I didn’t like the use of iceberg lettuce as I think the texture of romaine would have tasted better with the dressing. For 200 Yen though, I can see why iceberg was used.
Ginza Hageten Kyoto is located in the Cube, which is the basement Kyoto Station. L and I ordered tendon (1070 Yen). I should have ordered tempura a la carte like the other customers. If you order a la carte, each piece is brought to you immediately after each piece is individually cooked.
Compared to Tenya, Ginza Hageten’s tempura is more delicate and not nearly as battered. The sauce was more sophisticated and the rice was superior as well. The battered egg was not as good as I thought it would be. The egg yolk was hot and squirted out as I bit into it, but the flavour of the yolk was bland.
L and I liked to have a drink at Yeisu Bar’s patio. Located by Kyoto Station under the Yodobashi camera building, located on a trendy strip. If you’re a fan of Yeisu beer, you need to check out this bar for its large selection of beers on draft you won’t be able to find anywhere else. I like sitting on the patio for people watching. There’s even a section of the patio that’s non-smoking.
Sleeves of beers range from 600 – 1200 Yen. I think the name Yebisu translates to god of Japanese mythology. The brewery dates back to the late 1800s and the founding Japanese brew master was a German-trained brewer. Note how much head is left on Japanese beer.
I preferred the grapefruit vodka soda. I was pleasantly surprised to see a glass cost only 500 Yen. Refreshing. It’s hard to find a good grapefruit vodka soda at a restaurant that actually uses freshly squeezed fruit.
We tried some bar bites. The portions are small and pricey and the quality is something you’d get at American chain restaurant. Like all metropolitan areas, you pay for the privilege of sitting down in a prime real estate to people watch.
One of the most disappointing meals I had in Kyoto was a place TJ frequented. She visited CoCo Ichibanya four times in a week. She likes this place because it’s right across from our hotel and the food is fried. Most of the dishes are around $12 US. CoCo specializes in curry dishes with fried food like tonkatsu (pork), chicken, and shrimp. Personally, I think my Japanese curry is superior. The fried chicken was dry and the breading was overcooked.
I should mention my disdain for this chain restaurant didn’t prevent me from demolishing my huge plate of food. I should also add that despite being quite tipsy, I could still tell the food here was lacklustre. That’s the ultimate Hitting the Sauce litmus test.
There’s a chain grocery store by our hotel called Daily. I call it the breakfast of chubbsters. This store differs from 7/11 and Family Mart by offering freshly made breakfast goods. Daily sells heavy, fried breakfast items like croque monsieur, curry buns, and katsu sandwiches. I enjoyed my breakfast of fried shrimp patty with egg salad.
The bakeries in Japan have awesome pastries. I veer to the buttery, heavier items for breakfast. For example, the croque monsieur (239 Yen) at local chain bakery Sizuya. The bread is warm and crusty. In between two slices of warm, airy bread sits a layer of fine tasting ham, covered with a baked slightly sweet cheesy topping. TJ would get a whole baguette, a brick of butter and crusty croissants for breakfast. She’d use a tiny bit of bread to go with her thick wedges of butter. At first I thought she was cutting into cheese. It wasn’t until I asked what type of cheese she purchased did I realize she was cutting into butter. It was then that I realized TJ and I have something in common. We love butter.
I like walking through Nishiki Market. It’s not like Tsukiji Market at all, but it’s cleaner and prettier. I went to Tsukiji Market last year and I wasn’t a fan. I didn’t like how dirty everything was and I found some of the people working at the market (understandably) grouchy. Nishiji and Tsukiji aren’t really comparable because the former doesn’t have an international fish warehouse or the surplus of sushi restaurants. However, if your goal is to admire seafood, flowers and eat fresh food from stalls in a convenient and charming corridor for an hour or so, I prefer Nishiki.
L and I weaved our way through food stalls and shops until I found a busy izakaya. I picked this restaurant because it was packed with regulars. After I ordered the chirashi and L ordered takoyaki, I noticed how dirty everything was. If I went to the washroom before I ate, I would have left. Absolutely vile. L was worried I’d get sick after we ate here.
The food wasn’t cheap either, which was why I was surprised this place was so busy with locals. So much for betting on a busy restaurant being a good restaurant. I should have used Yelp. L’s tako was better than my chirashi. But that’s not saying much.
Partly because I don’t have a good way of ending this post, I’ll tack a couple more random pictures. Below is a sparkling sake with gold flakes! I’m tempted to make a crude joke here, but I don’t have the golden touch.
This is one cookie I’ll bring back next year. You can buy these small boxes of cookie and vanilla biscuits from 7/11 (239 Yen). It tastes much better than it looks. I normally avoid unattractive sweets but L told me to try it. The flavour reminded me of cookies and cream ice-cream.
I’ve been to Japan twice, so my standard will be higher next year. Tokyo and Kyoto, we had a blast. Sayōnara Japan, see you next year.