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Once Japan’s Imperial capital, Kyoto is known for its temples, shrines, and beautiful natural landscapes. The city also presents a rich culinary history, offering several famous dining styles, local dishes, and confectionaries to tempt your taste buds. Japanese food is very regional, with each region having its own specialty dishes and ingredients.
Follow this guide to the most delicious high-quality must eats in Kyoto and where to try them.
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Shojin Ryori consists of a collection of dishes made without animal products, making it the perfect option for vegetarians or vegans. Full of flavor, the dishes of Shojin Ryori usually incorporate tofu, natto, and seasonal vegetables. A typical meal usually includes three small side dishes, soup, and rice. The idea is to bring balance to the body by choosing ingredients to match the seasons along with selecting 5 colors and 5 flavors. Flavors are enhanced by using seasonings such as soy sauce, sake, or mirin. The best place to enjoy Shojin Ryori is within the restaurants of Buddhist temples.
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A popular comfort food during the winter months, yudofu is a very simple dish that is very healthy. Known as “hot tofu”, the dish has but just a few ingredients of which include tofu, dashi kombu (Japanese stock using kelp), and water. Add flavor to the meal by adding sauces such as soy sauce, ponzu vinegar, or sesame sauce. The dish makes a great appetizer or meal if you’re looking for something light. Sample this great dish in the popular tofu restaurant Yudofu Sagano in Western Kyoto.
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Those with a strong sweet tooth will want to sample yatsuhashi. This popular sweet treat is made with glutinous rice flour, sugar, and cinnamon. You can try it three ways: baked, unbaked, and unbaked with red bean paste. The unbaked version is known as nama yatsuhashi, raw triangles of goodness which can be eaten plain or filled with bean paste. The baked variety looks like curved rectangular crackers or biscuits and usually has an intense cinnamon taste. You can also find yatsuhashi in flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, banana, and green tea. Look for this treat is souvenir stores and airport gift shops.
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Yuba is made from boiled soymilk. The skin that is created when the soymilk boils away is dried to create this “tofu skin”. A bit chewier than tofu, yuba doesn’t have that much flavor on its own and therefore is best experienced with soy sauce, wasabi, ginger, or soup. Yuba is said to have come to Japan from China around 1200 years ago, with the first experienced in Kyoto. You can try yuba raw like sashimi or dried in the form of yuba sticks or twists. Yuba is high in protein and iron with little cholesterol. Great restaurants to try yuba are Toyouke Jaya and Gyatei.
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Kyoto is well known for its matcha desserts which are made from finely ground powder of specially grown and processed green tea leaves. Kyoto’s “Uji matcha” is considered a specialty and one of the finest examples of Japanese green tea. Kyoto offers numerous matcha cafes serving up delicious and healthy desserts using matcha. Desserts include matcha macaroons, shakes, matcha cake rolls, emerald pecan brownies, matcha tiramisu, matcha custard, and matcha parfait. Head to places like Nakamura Tokichi Honten and Charyo Tsujiri to sample some of these tasty treats.
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Soba is thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. Kyoto’s clean pure waters produce some of the finest soba and a popular dish to try in Kyoto is nishin soba. Nishin soba consists of sweet and tender herring that is presented over a tangle of soba noodles. The herring is cooked in soy sauce and sugar and its addition to soba noodles became popular in 19th century Kyoto. If you aren’t into herring, you can also enjoy soba with toppings like tempura, duck, or curry. Check out one of Kyoto’s oldest soba restaurants, Matsuba Soba, for great tasting nishin soba.
Which one of these must eats in Kyoto sounds most appetizing to you?