It’s undeniable that Kyoto is beautiful, but we didn’t just sit around staring at mountains all day, we actually enjoyed some really great food and fun! In fact, I’d say Kyoto had the best food of the whole trip, even better than Osaka which is known for it’s food culture.

You wouldn’t know it by this weird breakfast though…

That was the first thing we ate in Kyoto and thankfully it wasn’t indicative of the food to come. We went to a little breakfast place near our rental home and couldn’t read a word on the menu so we just ordered the first thing on it. What we got was a hollowed out piece of toast filled with a salad on top of mashed potatoes! It was good but a very strange thing to have for breakfast.

The coffee was pretty good though. Love the teeny tiny cream pitcher!

We had a really amazing lunch in the Gion district. We passed a restaurant that smelled like toasted rice and couldn’t resist. This place specialized in cooking rice in donabe pots and serving with various accompaniments.

Jeff got ochazuke, which is rice with fish and tea poured over.

I had a creamy dish of tofu and wheat gluten with tempura vegetables on top. Meals are almost always served with various pickled and salted things to put on top.

We had amazing ramen in a bar in an alley along the river. Jeff got a pepperd one with chicken dumplings.

Mine was pretty standard pork ramen. I can’t express enough how delicious the eggs you get in a bowl of ramen are. The yolk is really salty, soft, and gelatinized. Tastes extremely chickeny.

Jeff had to try the raw egg rice bowl with salted kombu. He fell absolutely in love with it and I make it for him for breakfast sometimes.

Of course we had sushi. We got caught in the pouring rain and ducked into a sushi restaurant for a few hours while we waited for it to pass. Not a bad way to pass the time! And yes, you really can tell the difference in quality. Even the cheap sushi we had at chain restaurants in Japan was light years better than even the most expensive stuff in the states.

Speaking of sushi, it’s hard to decide what the best meal we had in Kyoto was, but the traditional Kyoto-style sushi at Izuju was definitely one of them.

There was sake, of course….

And hot, grassy green tea.

We ordered a combination of three Kyoto classics: inarizushi (rice wrapped in fried tofu skin), sabazushi (vinegared mackerel sushi wrapped in kombu), and the jewel bako (multi-colored box-pressed sushi.) Kyoto-style sushi is very distinct from sushi you typically think of. It usually has more rice, more vinegar, and these tightly molded shapes are very common.

This was the best bite, eel and tamago! I love the fluffy souffle-style tamago like this. I definitely prefer Kyoto-style sushi. Oishii!

The next contender for best meal was the sukiyaki we had in a restaurant on Pontocho. Pontocho runs along the river with the backs of all the restaurants lining the water and all the entrances facing a narrow lantern-lit alleyway full of energy.

We didn’t know what we wanted for dinner one night and being exhausted we just stumbled into the first restaurant we saw. We were led upstairs to a tatami room with low tables and pillows to sit on.

We started with a few appetizers. This one is tsukune, a grilled chicken skewer that you dip in raw egg. I didn’t really feel like the egg added anything, but I went with it.

We also had a bundle of tempura leeks with vinegar dipping sauce and seasoned salt that was spectacular.

The main course was beef sukiyaki. Raw beef slices, tofu, wheat gluten, vegetables, scallions and sauces are added to the tabletop stove and it cooks in less than 5 minutes!

I really don’t know how to put into words how good this was. And if that wasn’t enough, after we had eaten much of the sukiyaki, we were given some cooked udon noodles to soak up the rest of the delicious sauce!

We were forcing ourselves to keep eating this past fullness because it was just so incredible. While we were slurping up noodles, a pair of exquisite geisha entered the room to entertain a table of high-rollers. An agent caught me staring at the beautiful geisha and offered to let us meet them and have our picture taken!

We were very lucky to meet Ayano and Momiyuki, who are famous in Pontocho. We also got to meet the client they were entertaining, a famous shamisen player!

I will remember that night forever. We almost didn’t even go in that restaurant and if we hadn’t we would have missed out on that wonderful memory.

One thing I will never forget about Japan is the sweets. You couldn’t walk 10 steps in any direction without bumping into a bakery or sweet shop. I especially loved the delicate and expertly crafted little confections known as wagashi. This sweet red bean and flaky pastry wagashi was one of my favorites.

And I bought this box of soft mochi filled with sweet red bean and dusted with cinnamon on the way back down from Kiyomizu-dera with the intent of bringing some home. They barely lasted two days!

One thing I noticed about eating in Japan is that where a restaurant is located says almost nothing about the quality you’ll find there. We had some the best meals of the trip in subways!

This amazing lunch was had in the Kyoto subway station on our arrival and it was amazing. I had box-pressed sushi, noodles, tempura, and seaweed salad. The soba-cha, or buckwheat tea we were served was the most delicious tea I’ve ever encountered. I still dream about it.

Jeff got this huge tower of soba noodles with toppings and tempura and boiled vegetables. He actually ate all of it!

Upon leaving Kyoto to head back to Tokyo for the last few days of our trip, we stopped in another subway restaurant that we had heard a ton of buzz about: Tetsu.

Tetsu is a ramen joint but they do things a little differently. The noodles are served separate from the broth and you dip the noodles in it and slurp them up! There was a funny sign on the wall explaining just how to do it.

This was the richest, porkiest, most amazing ramen ever! There were huge chunks of pork belly in it and the noodles were topped with crunchy caramelized garlic. We made a mess slurping up all that porky goodness and washed it down with lots of beer.

OMG looking at all this again is making me drool. I still find myself daydreaming about some of this food from time to time.

Next up: Tokyo and the end of our trip!