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Five Essential Kyoto Foods

By Viator, June 2014

4.5 52 Reviews | Add your review

Traditional Kyoto food relies heavily on vegetables, tofu, and rice – a simple but elegant diet that for centuries has catered to monks and other vegetarians. Before modern refrigeration technology, popular Japanese dishes of raw fish and sushi were difficult to find in Kyoto, given its distance from major fishing ports. Today, fish can be found on nearly every street corner, as well as beef, pork, and chicken. Despite modern demand for a varied diet, Kyoto’s traditional food delicacies can be found throughout the city in markets and restaurants. Here are five essential Kyoto foods.

Pickles

Order a meal in almost any restaurant in Japan, and the entrée will undoubtedly be served with pickled vegetables. There’s no exception in Kyoto, where pickles are a specialty of the region. There are three main types of pickles in Kyoto. The first is senmaizuke – thinly sliced turnip that is pickled in salt and seaweed with sugar sprinkled on to add an unexpected sweetness. Shibazuke is salty, pickled eggplant with a hint of ginger. Suguki, or pickled turnip, is fermented in salt.

Fu

It’s hard to describe fu, translated as wheat gluten. The protein-rich, elastic textured replaces meat in many contemporary diets. Other cultures refer to the dish as Seitan and wheat meat. Kyoto has produced the meat substitute for over 100 years and serves it in a variety of ways. Fu is a popular ingredient in soups.

Tofu

The staple and prize food of Kyoto is tofu, made from soybeans. The healthy protein is abundant and fresh across the city, usually hand-made. While every region of Japan produces the meat substitute, Kyoto is renowned and revered for its production and version of the dish. Found in soups, stir fry, alongside rice, and simply in a bowl with pickled vegetables, Kyoto reveres its tofu. In the bustling Nishiki Market, patrons can also purchase and sample the local delicacy yuba, or tofu skin.

Seasonal vegetables

Seasonal and regional vegetables have been a staple in the Kyoto diet for centuries. Traditional vegetables found in the region are vast and varied. Emi imo is a variety of yam easily distinguished by its prawn-like pattern on the skin. Horikawa gobo is a root vegetable from burdock. Kamo-nasu is a type of eggplant, and kintoki ninjin  is a long, thin, red carrot. These vegetables and many more can be found everywhere in Kyoto from house kitchens to small restaurants to larger traditional ones.

Ochazuke (tea-flavored rice)

Ochazuke, or tea-flavored rice, might be the most quintessential Japanese dish, made from the country’s two major staples: rice and green tea. The simple dish is prepared by pouring green tea over rice and adding savory toppings like pickled plums, seaweed, salmon flakes, or even broiled eel. Normally eaten as a simple snack or a late-night meal, ochazuke is Kyoto comfort food.

Tours & Tickets

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Kyoto Cooking Class, Sake Tasting and Nishiki Food Market Walking Tour

4.5 star rating: Recommended 34 Reviews

Take a guided walk through Nishiki food markets and enjoy a Japanese cooking class on this small-group walking tour from Kyoto. You'll explore the back streets ...  Read more

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 2 hours (approx.)

From USD $112.49

Japanese Tea Ceremony with a Tea Master

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 4 Reviews

Enjoy a traditional tea ceremony and learn the sophisticated philosophy behind serving a bowl of tea. You’ll have three options for this experience: a 1-hour ...  Read more

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: Varies

From USD $38.16

Kyoto Cooking Class

Discover Kyoto’s rich culinary heritage during a cooking class in the former imperial capital. Your 1.5-hour lesson takes place in a ‘machiya,’ a traditional ...  Read more

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 90 minutes (approx.)

From USD $58.25

Fushimi Inari and Sake Brewery Tour

4.5 star rating: Recommended 14 Reviews

Taste the culture of Japan with a sake-tasting tour at Inari, home to some of the best sakes in Japan. Visit a sake brewery to learn the history of sake ...  Read more

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes (approx.)

From USD $106.46

Kyoto Sushi-Making Class

Learn the culinary art of rolling sushi in a sushi-making class and enjoy your creations for dinner. Your 1.5-hour lesson takes place in a traditional Kyoto ...  Read more

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 90 minutes (approx.)

From USD $58.25

Private Sushi and Tempura Cooking Class at a Local Kyoto Home

Perfect the art of home cooking in Kyoto with this private tempura and sushi-making class! You’ll be picked up from your hotel by a friendly guide who ...  Read more

Location: Kyoto, Japan
Duration: 3 hours (approx.)

From USD $135.58

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