No trip to Kyoto, Japan is complete without exploring its food culture. Though most Japanese food uses simple ingredients, the flavor explosion that washes over your palate after just one bite of just about any dish from the places you must eat at in Kyoto is anything but simple. With their complex flavors and wonderful and varying textures, it’s no surprise that Kyoto has become a haven for foodies looking to try what is, for many, some of the most magnificent food on the planet.
Whether you’re seeking out traditional dishes that have been around for hundreds of years or more modern and unique culinary creations, or whether your taste buds are fixed on rich and hearty sit-down meals or portable street foods you can munch on as you explore, Kyoto has something for you. These are the 5 places you must eat at in Kyoto, Japan!
Tofu is one of those foods that people either seem to love or loathe, but even if you consider yourself a tofu hater, I challenge you to try some of Kyoto’s finest tofu at Okabeya, a restaurant near the famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple that specializes in creating flavorful and interesting variations of this often-misunderstood food that could turn even the most fervent tofu skeptic into a fan!
When you visit Okabeya, you can’t go wrong with their superb yudofu, or tofu hotpot, meal (2,160 Yen/$19.39 U.S.). This amazing tofu-based spread consists of hot tofu that is boiled in a simmering pot right at your table. You can allow the tofu to cook for as long as you like, and then transfer it to a bowl and add my one of my favorite Japanese flavor combinations, soy sauce and wasabi.
Also included in the meal is a sweet and garlicky sesame tofu that is expertly made so that the garlic doesn’t overpower the other flavors, and a divine skewered and fried tofu with a cheesy miso that made my taste buds sing.
Their tasty and lightly-battered vegetable tempura, which contains sweet potato, eggplant, and shishito peppers, is also a highlight, as are the tender and succulent whole shrimp, sticky rice, and pickles. Cap off your meal with a nice, cold sake (670 Yen/$6.01 U.S.) to complete your authentic Japanese cuisine experience.
Trust me, if you don’t love tofu after eating at Okabeya, you never will! It’s some of the best tofu I’ve ever had and is most definitely one of the top places you must eat at in Kyoto!
Nishiki Market (Japanese Street Food)
If you’re a foodie coming to Kyoto, chances are you’re looking to sample some of the city’s fantastic and unique street food. If you are, one of the premier places you must eat at in Kyoto is the downtown area’s Nishiki Market, a narrow, five-block-long pedestrian shopping street and historic marketplace that got its start in 1310, the year its very first shop opened.
Though the entire street is only 1,200 feet long, there is always a seemingly endless flurry of activity around you. There are countless interesting and bizarre foods to check out and sample, including bags of tiny, crunchy crabs; dried seaweed; dehydrated scallops; dried baby sardines; live fish; snails; sea urchin; and sparrow meat. Many of the shops and stalls offer free samples, so speak up if you’d like to try some!
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You can also browse the shops for souvenirs and try less intense Japanese treats, such as mochis, white strawberries, sashimi, yakitori, oysters, roe, and hundreds of varieties of sake.
But the star food item at Nishiki Market is a curious delicacy called tako tamago (250 Yen/$2.23 for a small and 500 Yen/$4.47 for a large), which is a small octopus on a stick that has been grilled and stuffed with a quail egg. While it may look a little too odd or bizarre to some, it is actually a phenomenal combination of flavors and textures that I couldn’t get enough of!
Along with the tako tamago, I also recommend the delightful salted cherry-leaf-wrapped Sakura mochi (170 Yen/$1.52), and the grilled green tea mochi (also 170 Yen/$1.52), and washing it all down with some delicious sake (400 Yen/$3.57). They are all to die for. It’s no wonder Nishiki Market is known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen” and is one of the top locations in the city for delicious street food!
If you happen to visit Kyoto during the cold winter months like I did, you’ll need a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs type of dish to kick off your day. And in my opinion, there are few things better on a frigid morning in Japan than a beef bowl at Sukiya, a fast-casual restaurant chain that has over 2,000 locations across the country.
Sukiya is known for using delicious ingredients, leaner beef, high-quality rice and vegetables, and offering their dishes in multiple sizes. Their low prices and quick and efficient service, which is designed to get customers in and out of the restaurant as quickly as possible, are also a plus.
My meal of choice at Sukiya is the pork miso & curry soup along with the beef bowl (550 Yen/$5 total). The beef bowl also comes with lots of filling sticky rice, some onions, and a raw egg, which you crack over the beef, rice, and onions, and stir into the hot mixture until every bite is coated in rich, delicious yolk.
The beef is incredibly flavorful and juicy, and I suggest adding some soy sauce to your bowl for an added kick of flavor. The pork miso & curry soup is equally fantastic and has a flavorful broth that is filled with herbs and bits of onion and radish, and the pork is chewy and fatty. These two insanely delicious dishes make Sukiya one of the top places you must eat at in Kyoto!
Fushimi Inari Shrine (Japanese Street Food)
Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Shrine is not only one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, it’s also one of the most popular in the entire country of Japan! But what you may not know about this amazing place is that, in addition to it being a stunning Shinto shrine that boasts over 10,000 gorgeous torii gates, it’s also a wonderful spot to try some delicious Japanese street food!
At the nearby market, there is an extremely tasty selection of street food treats, which you can smell long before you actually see them! They include takoyaki (500 Yen/$4.46 U.S. for six), which are chewy, doughy fritters containing a mouthwatering combination of tangy red ginger, cabbage, and succulent octopus meat.
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The consistency on the inside is almost like a crème brûlée! Just take care while eating them; they’re boiling hot, so open them up and let them cool down so you don’t burn your tongue and gums.
Be sure to also try the skewered tofu steak (400 Yen/$3.57 U.S.) with wasabi and ponzu sauce. It is absolutely incredible and the shredded seaweed and bonito flakes on top give it an amazing texture.
And last, but certainly not least, treat yourself to a chicken skin gyoza (300 Yen/$2.68 U.S. for three), a unique take on a potsticker that uses chicken skin instead of dough. The end result is a fatty and flavorful gyoza that blew my mind!
When you come to Fushimi Inari Shrine, do not miss out on the mind-blowing street food at the nearby market! It’s easily one of the top places you must eat at in Kyoto.
Kurazushi Conveyor Belt Sushi
Japan is known for its wild and unique culinary experiences, and one of the most unique is the concept of conveyor belt sushi. This fast, efficient, and entertaining food delivery system is quite simple. A long conveyor belt runs alongside each table in the restaurant.
Have a seat at a table and order the dishes you want on the provided tablet, and within minutes, your order will speed its way down the conveyor belt and stop right next to you!
The best place in Kyoto to have this unique experience is Kurazushi, which more than delivers on their promise to provide their customers with healthy, authentic, and great-tasting sushi in a clean and comfortable setting.
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They don’t use any chemical seasonings or artificial sweeteners, colorings, or preservatives in their food. They also ensure their customers’ safety by implementing a computerized system that calculates how long food has sat out and discarding any sushi that has sat out for too long.
I visited Kurazushi in the Nijō Station area with my friend Javier, and between the two of us, we cleared 19 plates and a whopping 38 pieces of sushi!
I highly recommend their sensational salmon with melted cheese; the salmon with onions, mayonnaise, soy sauce, and wasabi, which is out of this world; the minced tuna; their unique Inari Sushi, which is rice inside a sweet, deep-fried pocket of tofu, and my personal favorite, the tuna, egg, and scallion sushi. Each dish is roughly $1 U.S. each and I suggest enjoying it with a beer, which costs 300 Yen, or $2.69 U.S.
Every dish I had at Karazushi had my taste buds craving more. If you’re a sushi lover like me, you can’t miss this place. It’s easily one of the top places you must eat at in Kyoto!
Much like its list of temples and shrines, the list of incredible food in Kyoto is seemingly never-ending. Whether you’re looking to try traditional favorites like tofu and sushi, a quick and mouthwatering beef bowl, or more exotic and unique specialties like tako tamago or a chicken skin gyoza, the eateries of Kyoto have got you covered. Bask in the wonderful aromas and flavors of this city for even a second and I promise, you’ll never want to leave!
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