Five Essential Kyoto Foods

By Viator, March 2016

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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.


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.


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.


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.

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