A weekend in Kyoto is a foodie’s dream! Tokyo is often heralded as the king of Japanese cuisine and naturally, being so much bigger than Kyoto, you do benefit from more choice. However, Kyoto does have culinary merit, from the traditional Japanese breakfast to elegantly prepared Buddhist cuisine, the food here is out of this world. And the setting could not be more beautiful.
We visited during Golden Week, a collection of four national holidays that all fall within a seven-day period. Many Japanese people take this week off to celebrate, so visiting during the festivities can seem a bit overwhelming for some tourists, but there’s no need to worry! The Golden Week festival is a great time to visit Japan, as there is so much to see and do. Many businesses even offer Japan Golden Week prizes to celebrate the festival, ranging from all-expense-paid trips to cute little trinkets. But if retail therapy isn’t on your itinerary, then have a look for street parties instead, as they are all around town, along with a celebratory buzz is in the air.
Snacks at the Station and Nishiki Market
We arrived on Greenery Day; a holiday originally marked as the birthday of former Emperor Shōwa but is now dedicated to nature. We wasted no time in grabbing a quick something to eat at Ginza Hagetakashi, which I’ve previously written a little review of — I can’t stay away! After curbing the hunger enough to drop off our bags and head out into town, we made our way to Nishiki Market. It’s an excellent spot to visit outside of lunch and dinner time if you can and especially not on a national holiday and at the weekend. Nevertheless, we braved the crowds and tried some spectacular food. Nishiki Market is often called Kyoto’s Kitchen, and it’s not hard to see why. Since 1310, this market and its 150 vendors have served up an array of street food, from pickled gourds to baby octopus. If you’re brave enough to try some of the more exotic offerings, then you will reap the rewards.
Breakfast at Shunsai Imari
A traditional Japanese breakfast is a real delight. Nothing is off the menu in the morning, whether you fancy soup and noodles or curried rice, but a proper traditional breakfast is an elaborate affair. A proper breakfast can take hours to prepare, so it’s the kind of thing in which going out to eat is not only delicious, but it’s necessary. The best bit of advice is to book ahead and visit Shunsai Imari for breakfast. The reason I suggest booking ahead is quite simple, as they always cook the rice to order. So, reserving a space means that you’ll avoid a long wait — after all, only three chefs work here.
So, onto the breakfast itself, usually you would expect the star of the breakfast to be a protein, often grilled fish or an omelet served aside rice, pickles and miso soup. Shunsai Imari offers all of these and a few extras, each prepared with love. The smoky mustard greens are truly a delight while the fried eggplant in a dashi broth is the stuff of dreams. Take time to savor this breakfast; it might be the best in Japan.
Shōjin Ryōri at Izusen
Vegetarians can rejoice because shōjin ryōri is entirely plant-based and likely to be one of the most delicately executed meals you’ve ever experienced. There are plenty of temples in Kyoto to eat shōjin ryōri, but we chose to visit Izusen. Tucked away in the Daitoku-ji complex, this temple is a beautiful place to share a meal. Indulging in dinner here is quite expensive but truly worth the cost.
Tofu is the star of the show here, with it presented in various ways, whether spiked with smoky sesame or served cold and creamy. A rule followed carefully here is to only use foods that are in season, so during our visit, the rice was simmered with bamboo shoots, but had we visited in autumn, we may have enjoyed sweet chestnuts or gingko nuts. Each course is carefully created with pickles, tempuras and dressed salads, bringing an array of textures and flavors that you couldn’t emulate anywhere else.