Wednesday, November 4, 2015

As the former imperial
capital, Kyoto's cuisine is linked to its regal history and landlocked
geography. It's home to several Michelin-starred restaurants, many of
which specialize in multi-course kaiseki meals served to diners
seated on tatami mats. That doesn't mean visitors need to spend a
fortune to stay fueled while shrine hopping. Kyoto's food charms really lie
in exploring local delicacies served in basement ramen shops, at street stalls
inside Nishiki Market or behind nondescript izakaya doors.  
© Meredith Bethune
1.  Kyoto-style ramen Tenkaippin (or, as the locals call it,
Ten'ichi) is a ramen chain with locations throughout Japan. Founded in Kyoto
in 1981, it's known for a thick and rich kotteri ramen made from
boiling chicken bones for 14 hours. The opaque, gravy-like broth is loaded
with eggy noodles and garnished with sliced pork, bamboo shoots and green
onions. Between slurps, diners adjust the flavor to their preference using
condiments like sesame seeds, chili paste and a spicy sesame oil.  
© Meredith Bethune
2. Tofu Clear water is essential for making tofu, and Kyoto's
abundant and clear groundwater supply has made it renowned for making delicate
tofu by hand. Besides new machinery, the traditional tofu-making process
hasn't changed much at Toyoukeya, a shop that has been owned and operated by
the Yamamoto family since 1897. At the family's restaurant, Toyouke Chaya,
guests can try dishes using the tofu at lunchtime. If you aren't normally a
tofu fan, try their tofu made with butter, which is made specifically to
appeal to Western palates. 3. Kushikatsu These skewers of fried,
panko-coated meat and vegetables hail from the Kansai region. Kushinobo, a
restaurant inside the Kyoto train station building on the top floor of the
Isetan department store, serves a kushikatsu set at lunchtime. The skewers,
called konnyaku, are made to order and usually include shishito peppers
stuffed with ground chicken and green onion, pork, quail's egg, squash and a
glutinous root vegetable. Served as a single order, tea, rice and miso soup
are also included. 4. Chirimen Sansho At first glance, this condiment
looks like dried shallots or perhaps a pickled vegetable—until you notice
the little eyes. As a landlocked city, Kyoto is known for preserved fish
dishes. These whole, dried whitebaits (tiny fish) are tossed with tingly
Japanese sansho pepper and commonly eaten on top of rice. Shoppers
at the Nishiki Market are encouraged to sample the dried fish, on display in
small bowls, and buy a full envelope to take home.
© Meredith Bethune 5. Nama-fu
Wheat gluten mixed with rice flour once provided the Zen monks of Kyoto with a
vegetarian source of food. Like tofu, making nama-fu required plenty of clean
water. The humble food, usually formed into shapes like maple leaves and
cherry blossoms, is now commonly used as an edible garnish in
the kaiseki tradition. The chewy substance is flavorless on its
own, but combining with herbs or other ingredients adds flavor. At lively
Torsei Honten, vegetarian diners can partake in the yakitori experience with
black sesame nama-fu instead of chicken or pork. 6. Kyoto-Style Sushi
As a landlocked city, traditional Kyoto sushi is typically made with preserved
fish. One of the most popular varieties is sabazushi, made from a large
piece of pickled mackerel wrapped around a log of rice and encased in a thin
sheet of kombu seaweed.  Hakozushi ismade from rice and eel or
mackerel pressed into a rectangular wooden box and then sliced into bite-size
pieces. Izuju in Gion, across the street from the Yasaka Shrine, has been
making both varieties for over 100 years. 7. Soy Milk Doughnuts The
Tohnyu Doughnut stand in Nishiki Market is renowned for their freshly made soy
milk doughnuts served piping hot in bags of ten. The plain doughnuts are
similar in texture and flavor to funnel cakes, and, like most Japanese treats,
they're not cloying. Those with a killer sweet tooth should order them
dusted in brown sugar or drizzled in chocolate or caramel.
© Meredith Bethune 8.
Tsukemono Pickles Vats filled with daikon, turnips and Chinese cabbage
covered in muddy-looking rice bran ferment in the open air inside Kyoto's
Nishiki Market. Shoppers will likely smell these pickles before they even see
them. They taste better than they look, of course, and the vendors are happy
to let customers sample the many colorful varieties. Visitors can even buy
vacuum-sealed bags of pickles to take home as a souvenir. 9. Yatsuhashi
The city's shops sell almost every type of traditional Japanese sweet, but
yatsuhashi is one of the most famous. It's triangular shape is said to
represent the koto, or traditional Japanese harp. Thin rice flour dough is
rolled thin and then wrapped around red bean paste, or is often baked until
crisp like a cookie. Yatsuhashi dough is typically flavored with cinnamon,
but black sesame and matcha varieties are also common. There are numerous
shops around town, but Izutsu Yatsuhashi Honkan in Gion is a solid
choice. 10. Kaiseki These multi-course meals featuring elaborate
courses and plating were traditionally served before tea ceremonies. For an
approachable kaiseki experience comprised of local specialties,
reserve a meal at Shoraian. The menu changes with the seasons, but it always
includes tofu and sometimes features nama-fu or chirimen sansho. The location
inside Prince Fumimaro Konoe's former resort home provides an unparalleled
view of the Katsura River and surrounding green hills.   This story
originally appeared on FWx More good reads from FWx:
8 Elements That Must Coalesce for a Perfect Bowl of Ramen 
David Chang Makes the World's Fastest Ramen Broth 
Fire Ramen Terrifies and Delights Diners in Japan

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