Kyoto is known as the cultural capital of Japan; and for a good reason! Here in Kyoto, you can witness all of Japan’s traditions and culture. Since Kyoto is the previous capital of Japan, there is still plenty of classic charm from the days when it was the center of activity. It’s like going in a time machine! A good (not to mention delicious) way to get to know more about a destination is through their local cuisines. So, here are our top 10 picks of Kyoto’s best foods!
Photo via Japan by Japan
Kyoto is known for its culture, and it is quite a usual sight to see maiko or oiran walking around in their heavy kimono. Even historically, tea houses were a big thing in Kyoto. Japanese teas are usually served alongside traditional sweets, and one of the most famous ones in Kyoto is the Yatsuhashi. Traditionally, they are made of sweet red bean paste covered in a sheet of mochi and folded triangularly. Nowadays, you can find them with various fillings and in every souvenir shop! This is definitely one of the first things you need to find during your trip to Kyoto!
2. Kyo Kaiseki
As the old capital, Kyoto is full of extravagant dishes that focus not just on taste, but also appearance. A kaiseki meal is a traditional fine dining course that focuses on all the focal points of traditional food: the looks and the taste. Although you can get a kaiseki meal almost anywhere in Japan, Kyoto is known to have the most extravagant and beautiful kaiseki. This is because historically, these meals are reserved for the aristocrats who lived in the capital city. Kaiseki is on the expensive side, but you’re guaranteed to get your money’s worth!
Photo via Bon Appétit
Yudofu is a simmered tofu dish that is quite popular in Kyoto. It is very smooth to taste, but also creamy and light. It is usually served with shoyu and green onions. Some places also offer grated radish that will help cool you down on a hot summer day. If you prefer a light, savory dish after a long day, this is the perfect food for you!
Photo via Roti n Rice
This sushi is quite well known all over the world. Its name comes from a Shinto god named Inari, who is the deity in charge of crops. It is believed that the messengers for Inari are foxes, which you can often find in the form of statues at every Inari shrine. These foxes are said to love Inari (the fried tofu skin filled with sweet sushi rice and some other vegetables), and so, people usually leave Inarizushi as an offering to both the god, Inari, and his messengers whenever they visit the shrine. You can easily find this sushi everywhere, but it would be more memorable if you were to eat it around Inari’s shrine.
Bonus! Kyoto is home to the famous Fushimi Inari Shrine, which is known for its thousand Torii gate! Make sure to get yourself some Inarizushi during your visit to this power spot!
As we’ve said, Kyoto is full of tea houses and almost all the traditional sweets known to Japan. In general, these sweets are called wagashi. There are many different kinds of wagashi, and each one only appears during a certain season. One thing they all tend to have in common is that they include mochi and anko, although they are not limited to those two items. Make sure to explore and try as many wagashi as you can during your cultural discovery in Kyoto!
6. Kyoto Baumkuchen
Photo via Japan by Japan
For some inexplicable reason, Japan has a lot of shops that sell this German confectionary. Baumkuchen is a ring-shaped cake that has lots of layers. When cut, it resembles tree rings which is actually where the name comes from. Kyoto Baumkuchen consists of two flavors: soybean and matcha. This modern-day treat comes with a cute packaging that can easily be packed into your suitcase! It’s the perfect gift to take back home to your loved ones.
7. Saba Sushi
Photo via Just One Cookbook
Being a landlocked city in a country that relies heavily on seafood has its perks sometimes. Back in the day, it was pretty hard to bring fresh fish into Kyoto without it spoiling. Then, people found a way to preserve fresh mackerel by covering it with salt. Saba sushi is basically preserved mackerel fish sushi. It offers you a unique taste and it is also quite healthy too! This is one of Kyoto’s most unique dishes that you should try!
8. Kyo Tsukemono
Photo via Journey of Japan
In many Asian countries, the older generations tend to favor the sour and sweet taste of pickled food. Kyoto, being the center of all things traditional and classic, is home to the best-pickled vegetables in Japan. A mix of vinegar and salt could turn a normal radish, cabbage, or any other vegetables into an exciting, flavorful dish. Try some of the traditional pickled dishes in Kyoto along with your meal, or by itself!
9. Nishin Soba
Kyoto is also known for its pristine water, which is essential in creating tofu, sake, and soba. Soba noodles made from buckwheat, which gives off a light gray color in the noodles. Nisshin Soba are soba noodles served in a clear soup, that is created from herring fish stock with shoyu. It gives off a light and refreshing feeling, and is very healthy, too! Since herring is a great source of protein, this dish is the perfect dish to eat after a whole day of exploring this beautiful city.
10. Uji Matcha
Uji Matcha is a famous type of matcha that comes from the town of Uji, which is located between Kyoto and Nara. Famous for it’s deep and strong taste, Uji matcha was sought after as a prestigious gift in the past. It is said that their superior quality comes from the unique environment in which they are cultivated in Uji. It is a must-try for green tea lovers. Nowadays, you can try Uji Matcha in many different forms. For those of you who might not be able to handle the bitterness that is unique to this luxurious tea, you can treat yourself to an Uji Matcha ice cream. You can also buy some Uji Matcha tea powder to bring a little bit of Kyoto back home! Either way, this is a treat that you should not miss during your trip in Kyoto.