Ah, Kyoto. Travellers love it. Even the locals cannot resist it. Beyond the charm of its rich culture and historical architecture, Kyoto beckons food lovers with its honest-to-goodness culinary treasures. We round up some of the best places to embark on that culinary journey in the city centre and beyond.
Ramen: Kyoto Gogyo
What’s a trip to Japan without eating ramen? If you are in Kyoto city, we highly recommend Kyoto Gogyo (五行), which serves a unique type of burnt ramen.
Most ramen are forgettable to me, even the so-called nice ones. But Gogyo’s burnt ramen is one I would remember for life because it’s THAT special. What makes it a departure from the usual ramen fare is the broth, made by scorching soy and miso bases in 300°C lard in a wok, resulting in a smoky flavour.
We ordered the Kogashi Miso Ramen (¥880, about S$11) and the Kogashi Shoyu Ramen (¥880). The soup base is black in colour, which sets it apart from other ramen. Don’t be put off by the layer of oil and specks of char you see – looks are deceiving. One sip of the rich full-flavoured soup will send you to culinary heaven. Opt for Shoyu one if you prefer something lighter.
The restaurant is also located in a charming traditional building, once the home of a Gion geisha named Oyuki who married the nephew of famed banker JP Morgan.
Take time to admire the surroundings while you savour the delectable ramen. Do go early though – long queues typically form outside the restaurant during lunchtime.
452 Jumonji-cho, Yanaginobaba Dori, Takoyakushi-sagaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto Prefecture (on a side alley next to Nishiki Market) | Opening hours: 11:30am – 3pm, 6pm – 12am (Mon-Fri); 11:30 am – 4pm, 5pm – 12am (Sat); 11:30am – 4pm, 5 – 11pm (Sun), last orders half an hour before closing
Fresh local produce: Nishiki Market
Japan has a rich agricultural heritage and it is a well-known fact that the Japanese offers consistently excellent produce and meats. Probably the best traditional food market in Kyoto city, Nishiki Market is a narrow and long shopping street with over 100 shops and restaurants. Here, you’ll be able to find all sorts of fresh local produce — seafood, sushi, and seasonal specialties such as pickles and sweets. Besides food items, this lively market also sells cookware and knives. We got a box of sweet Japanese strawberries for only ¥486 (about S$6)!
Practically everything at Nishiki Market is produced locally. The market has a history spanning 400 years, and many stalls are owned by the same families for generations.
Shops at Nishiki Market usually open from 7am to 6pm. While you are at the market, head over to Kyoto Gogyo, which is just minutes away, for lunch.
609 Nishidaimonji-cho, Shijo-Noboru, Tomikoji Tori, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto | Nearest subway: Shijo Station, Karasuma Station and Kawaramachi Station
Kobe beef: Itoh Dining by Nobu
Kyoto’s proximity to Kobe means there is no lack of places in Kyoto for probably the most prized beef in the world. For those with deep pockets, Itoh Dining Kyoto by Nobu is the place to go for that splurge. Tucked away in Kyoto’s most famous geisha district Gion (祇園), Itoh Dining specialises in Kobe beef and teppanyaki.
Housed in a traditional-style Japanese house built about half a century ago, the restaurant guarantees fine dining experience with a picturesque view to boot. Sit by the window which overlooks a small canal and you may catch an occasional glimpse of kimono-clad women strolling by. Alternatively, you can choose to sit at the counter where you get to watch the chef in action, the typical teppanyaki style. During the sakura season, Itoh Dining gets particularly busy as the blossoms can be seen in its full glory from the restaurant.
With celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s brand name behind the restaurant, quality is pretty much a given here. We tried the Special Kobe Beef Steak course (¥12,500 per set, or about S$160), which comprises 110g premium Kobe beef steak, grilled seafood, Kyoto-style hors d’oeuvres, soup and dessert. The highlight of the meal, needless to say, is the Kobe beef, of which we savoured every precious bite of the marbled tenderness. Each and every dish is exquisitely prepared and presented, ensuring a dining experience of a high order. This would be a meal that is hard to forget.
80 Sueyoshicho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0085 | Tel: +81 75-525-3235
The freshest seafood catch: Maizuru
If all you have ever visited is just Kyoto City (not to be mistaken with Kyoto Prefecture), you have no idea what you are missing out on. There are many food destinations beyond the city centre worth making the trip for. And one of them is Maizuru, where you can find a smorgasbord of seafood from one of Kyoto’s largest fishing ports.
At Maizuru Port Toretore Centre, you can buy freshly caught seafood and have them grilled before your very eyes. You can also choose to have the seafood prepared as sashimi. From snow crabs to oysters to fishes, the endless variety and the cheap wholesale prices are enough to make one dizzy with delight. The only problem you will encounter here is choosing what to eat.
From Nishi-Maizuru Station on the JR Maizuru line or on the KTR Miyamai Line, alight at the Toretore-center stop by Kyoto Kotsu Bus. Alternatively, hire a cab from the Tourism Information Office at JR Nishi-Maizuru Station.
905 Shimofukui, Maizuru, Kyoto City | Opening hours: 9am to 6pm (may change according to seasons); closed on Wednesdays and public holidays