The Bianco Guide to: Kyoto Food for Lovers
*Update: I’ve added an Instagram account (here) and google map (here) to this guide. You now will be able to see all the places I’ve visited, from Ramen to Izakayas and other great food collected on one Instagram and one big map. Follow the account here, and check out the map here.
Walking through the streets of Tokyo hunting for the next restaurant to eat the next best food ever sometimes feels like a complex labyrinth. It's always a little challenge, a tricky hunt or a long struggle to reach your objects of desire. In the end I always ended up in front of a plate or bowl with the same line running through my mind and I sometimes even had to scream it out loud - "Can we get much higher!?" But Tokyo ain't no beautiful dark twisted Kanye West fantasy, it has a mad and wonderful reality. And yes, we probably can't get much higher than Tokyo, but we can have it all much more easier at the same height. The answer is Kyoto and you will totally love it.
Kyoto is no labyrinth at all, everything you need is pretty much concentrated in a town that combines Ghibli aesthetics with historic vibes. This town feels pretty much like home just after a couple of days and if you do it right (use this guide), you will totally fall in love with it's food.
This guide will show you exactly why you should consider Kyoto as the place to be right before or after your Tokyo adventures.
Yuhi no Kirameki Ichijoji
Let's start this guide again with something obvious: ramen. Quite frankly: "Tori Paitan Ramen." This ramen is different to the tonkotsu ramen, therefore the broth is not based on pork bones but chicken instead. It is still super rich in flavor but way more lighter. Its so light, after eating a bowl you will leave the ramen-ya almost like bird aka Nelly Furtado. This ramen is one of the best ramen I ever had in my entire life, words can’t even describe it. I ate there about 6 times in just 10 days. Just go there around 11am take the far left seat on the bar (best place to see it all) and watch the chef cooking up this magic soup consisting of the light chicken broth, some lemon zest and perfectly cooked chicken - you're straight in heaven again. But we ain't finished yet...
... to spice things up a little bit I got a devilish set up for you on top. Instead of just ordering one tori paitan bowl, (please!) order the Taiwan Mazesoba on top. Mazesoba is a broth-less ramen aka a mixed noodle dish originating from Nagoya and the Kirameki crew is famous for cooking this dish up to new heights. Once you mixed up the chives, onions, ground meat, seaweed, fish meal, garlic, egg yolk and noodles all together you will create an umami explosion on your tongue you never had before. I guarantee you will almost cry out loud eating this. That bowl is something I never want to miss in my life and I'm still sad by just thinking about not having this at the moment. To master both bowls at the same time, order both in size small and leave the restaurant almost a little bit too stuffed but happy forever.
open: 11am-3pm 6pm-11pm location: click
Chinese Soba Takayasu
Let's stick with Ramen and continue this awesome Kyoto ride. The next ramen-ya is just across the street from Kirameki from before and also serves ramen straight from your wildest dreams. Actually the locals around this block refer to this area as "ramen-street" so you will find a lot of wonders here. On top of that you wont be sharing this love with a bunch of tourists, this street is a beautiful little secret between me, you and the north of Kyoto. Takayasu is always crowded and there is always a line in front of it, except you show up around 11pm and eat your 4th warm meal of the day (what you should do every day btw). Even though they got the most funny and cheesy interior design skills ever, they have been awarded for best ramen in Kyoto two years in a row and I can not argue against that. Their tonkotsu ramen is super special and amazingly good. On top of that they got a fucking unreal good fried chicken as a side dish that will blow your brains out. It's really that good, trust me please. Now you basically could just start switching between both places across the street and be happy for a long time. But you are in the ramen street, so now attack for yourself please and find some other gems.
open: 11:30am-12pm location: click
Time for something really special about Kyoto - its desserts. The former capital of Japan is famous for its sweets and matcha deliciousness and you will fall in love for it very quick, too. To start your sweet dreams please go to Gion Kinana and eat the best ice cream of your life. I came there more often and had the whole menu so its quite hard to tell you what to do here. You should most definitely try their very own soya ice cream, an assorted selection of every ice cream they have, their mixed ice cream cups and some Kagigori (shaved ice).... so basically everything they offer. You will not regret it.
open: 11am-7pm location: click
Another total shocker is Kagizen Yoshifusa. I never ever ate that nifty and spectacular sweets in my life before. This place totally blew my mind and I never was into sweet stuff that much. Its pretty hard to think of anything even close to that matcha perfection. From a glass of matcha on the rocks, to the translucent noodles called Kuzukiri, that you dip into brown syrup to the most amazing Warabimochi - Jesus those Warabimochi - ...
... and the foamy green tea. Thank you Japan for the time I spent there and the food I’ve eaten there. Do not even dare to not try this all! (please)
open: 9am-6pm location: click
Now let's head for an original Kyoto dish that will win your hearts and wallets by storm. Issen Yoshoku is serving a Kyoto style variety of the almighty Okonomiyaki called Issen Yoshoku... yes Issen Yosoku is both the name of the dish and the name of the restaurant and both are tasty and sexy at the same time. First of all because you can watch the chefs preparing your omelet (that is basically what an Oknomiyaki is) right before your eyes, secondly because all the walls are filled with kinky Japanese wooden plates with filthy stuff painted on. So every face in this place offers you a smile and a smirk because everyone’s mind is weak and full of sins.
open: 11am-3am location: click
To finally give you more of a choice to decide what to eat and not just follow my straight orders you should definitely visit the Nikishi food market at least once. This market runs trough a long narrow alley in the heart of Kyoto and has been there since almost forever. The small stalls are run by families over decades and serving you the same amazing food and goods old Japanese food masters used to buy and eat since over 400 years. Its hard to pick some highlight since its your choice this time, but you should definitely check out the Tako Tamago (octopus with a quail egg stuffed in its head, yes), the matcha warabimotchis, the wagyu on a stick and as a special treat you can get the biggest oyster I ever had in here, too. This place has way more to offer so just get there as soon as possible and start exploring.
open: 9:30am-5:30pm location: click
We should finally start to upgrade your food game and go for the finer things. So let's head to Kibune, a small town in the mountains near Kyoto. This town is famous for its very own restaurants called Kawadoko, where you sit (basically float) over a gorgeous mountain stream to eat a traditional multi-course Japanese dinner called Kaiseki. If you ever thought about spending more money on some real good food, now its your turn. This place is straight out of a Ghibli movie, you almost feel Totoro sitting next you while some Kodama (those cute little tree spirits from Princess Mononoke) shaking their heads around you. Deep down in a green forest you’re up to a menu that will pleasure your concrete-stressed soul ...kind of.
Since im a low key samurai, there is also a plan B for all the people that don’t want to spend a major dime here and still need and want entertainment and food. In the middle of Kibune you will find a restaurant serving Nagashi Somen, where you eat long and thin Japanese noodles floating out of a long flume of bamboo. Its even more strange and tricky as it sounds. The noodles are getting fired straight out of the bamboo flume and there is not much time to crab them with your chop sticks. It needs a killer instinct, skills and a fast stomach to don’t loose anything. Its a hell of a ride and super funny.
I almost forgot to tell you that after you visit Kibune you should head to Kurama, a town just one train station away. Best plan is to eat at Kibune, then wander the beautiful trail to Kurama and visit the towns onsen (Japanese hot spring) to get the very best bathing time of your life after eating on of the best meals of your life. Its a dangerous mix of best things right here
Back in town there is an Izakaya waiting for you that put the Izakaya game on a whole other level. Gion Manzara serves a bad ass collection of different Izakaya dishes, some Kaiseki style food on top, a selection of sashimi out of this world and some pork belly cubes straight from hell. I had a vegetarian friend with me that would never eat any pork ever and she ordered this thingy two days in a row after trying just a tiny bit. So this place is straight class, one plus one equals five, a fucking present to humanity, a little bit pricey but worth any penny. Just don't miss it ok?
open: 5am-12pm location: click
Meat Kappo Bar Gyugyu Gion Honten
After all that fancy schmanzy places and restaurants let's end this guide with the best thing you will ever hold in your hand - Wagyu Nigiri. Serverd on a tasty cracker in different variations this will brighten up your day and dance with your belly. Holy devil, hands down, this stuff is one of the best things a street vendor ever made for me. I don’t need to tell you much about it, just look at the picture and start drooling. There is also (again) a fancy schmanzy restaurant linked to that vendor, but please stay in the beautiful streets of Kyoto, eat this and totally start feeling yourself!
open: 11:30am-11:30pm click: location