Traditional Kyoto dining relies on vegetables, tofu, and rice—a simple but elegant diet of delicacies that for centuries have catered to monks and vegetarians. To try Kyoto cuisine, or Kyo-ryori, for yourself, here are five essential ingredients.
Pickles Order a meal in almost any restaurant in Japan, and the entrée will undoubtedly be served with pickled vegetables. This rings true in Kyoto, where three main types of pickles are specialties of the region. The first is senmaizuke,thinly sliced turnip pickled in salt and seaweed with sugar sprinkled on top to add unexpected sweetness. Shibazuke is salty, pickled eggplant with a hint of ginger, while suguki, or pickled turnip, is fermented in salt.
Fu It's hard to describe fu, translated as wheat gluten, but the protein-rich, elastic, textured substance replaces meat in many contemporary diets. Other cultures refer to the dish as Seitan and wheat meat. Having been produced in Kyoto for over 100 years, the meat substitute is served in a variety of ways, including as a popular ingredient in soups.
Tofu The staple 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 sometimes simply paired 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 Fresh, regional vegetables have been a mainstay in the Kyoto diet for centuries, and they 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 others can be found everywhere from house kitchens to large restaurants.
Ochazuke This 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.