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Honeymoon part 3: Kyoto food

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!


Honeymoon part 2: Kyoto

Ah, Kyoto. If I could live out my days there I would.

Kyoto embodies what I have always loved about Japan and hoped it would be. It is a smaller city with one foot in modern times and the other deeply rooted in Japan’s traditional past.

There, you can still find ornately dressed geisha, or geiko as they are called in Kyoto, bustling down lantern-lit alleyways towards whatever nightly appointments they may have to entertain clients in much the same way as they would have 100 years ago or longer. You can still attend a traditional kabuki theater performance, which is not some modern reproduction but the real thing unchanged. Many structures are the original wood the were constructed from ages ago, though possibly restored after the war. Kyoto is what you think of when you think of old Japan – a zen rock garden in contrast to Tokyo’s excitable urban maze.

We stayed along this river, the Kamo-gawa, in a loft-style vacation rental that was part of someones home. It was so wonderful to wake up every day to the sounds of the river and the elementary school across the street calling the local kids to class. This was the view out our window…

Our rental home was about a mile north of the nearest subway station, so any time we needed to go anywhere we had the pleasure of walking along the Kamo-gawa for 20 minutes or so. It was so much fun to hop across the rocks to reach the other side.

The Kamo-gawa meets with another river and lots of people go there to hop across the rocks and meet with friends. We even saw a group practicing tai-chi!

Everything around us was so unbelievably beautiful. We loved peeking into neighborhood gardens as we strolled through the Shimogamo area.

Kyoto is full of old temples and shrines. We had plans to see many of them but didn’t have the time. The one I knew we couldn’t miss though was Kiyomizu-dera. It is a huge wooden temple sitting high up in the mist-covered mountains overlooking all of Kyoto.

It’s a long hike up to it, but totally worth it for those veiws.

We also made it to Yasaka Shrine. Another gorgeous and ornate temple complex.

There were many things we wanted to do in Kyoto that we never got around to, and as much as I wished we were able to see and do everything, I’m glad for the experience we had. Moving at a slower pace gave me the feeling that we weren’t just tourists bustling between this attraction and that. There were times when Jeff and I were walking down the stone streets or along the Kamo gazing at the mist hanging on the mountains and we truly felt like locals. Maybe some day…

Tomorrow: What we ate in Kyoto, it needs a whole post to itself!



Honeymoon part 1: Osaka

Ahh! I’ve been waiting so long to share the pictures from our honeymoon in Japan and now it’s finally here!

We flew out early the morning after our wedding for the insanity-inducing 13 and a half hour flight to Tokyo. From the airport it’s about a 45 minute train ride from Narita, where the airport is, to Tokyo. I stared out of the window the whole time trying not to miss a single thing.

We stayed one night in the Shibuya part of town before heading on to Osaka the next afternoon. I’ll get to what we did on that first day later when I show you the rest of the Tokyo part of the trip.

Osaka was about and hour and a half south on the Shinkansen high-speed train. We ordered a bento to share for lunch while we watched the mountains and rice fields roll by.

Jeff eating bento

It had 2 kinds of rice along with both boiled and pickled vegetables. Most of it was really good, though I don’t think Jeff or I will ever get the hang of eating umeboshi (sour pickled plums.)

Shinkansen bento

We stayed at a really cool hotel called Hotel Ichiei which had very traditional Japanese room arrangements done with a modern flair. I loved how our sleeping area was separated by these curtains, it was like sleeping in a tent.

Room dividers in Hotel Ichiei

And we were provided with yukata, typical house robes for lounging in.

Modeling yukata

I loved getting up each morning and making tea with this pretty little set.

Tea set in Hotel Ichiei

We ordered the traditional style breakfast just once and it was amazing! There was rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables, seaweed salad, boiled vegetables, tamago omelet, grilled salmon, and fish cakes. It was so much food! I wanted to eat all of it but there was just no way.

Traditional Japanese breakfast

One of the first things we did was visit Osaka Castle. The whole thing is a museum inside and it’s surrounded by gardens and a complex of other buildings.

Jeff in front of Osaka CastleOsaka Castle courtyardOsaka Castle rock garden

From the top you can see the whole city.

View from Osaka Castle towerShachihiko roof ornament

On our way back we passed a cute little fair for kids. Domo-kun was out shaking hands and being creepy and cute at the same time. He’s the mascot for the NHK television station.

Train outside NHK

Me and Domo-kun!

We had a delicious lunch of sushi, soup, tempura, and noodles.

Sushi and kitsune udon lunchSoba and sushi lunch

The next day, we skipped the extravagant breakfast and opted for donuts and coffee. Truthfully, pastries and coffee were our breakfast for all but 2 days of the entire 2 week trip! I loved the kinako (toasted soy flour) flavor best.

Breakfast at Cafe Andonand

We did a bunch of window shopping down Shinsaibashi and Ebisubashi streets. That’s not a mall we’re in, it’s a covered outdoor street you can drive down!

Shopping on Shinsaibashi

We had a bit of a hard time in Osaka with getting access to cash. If you ever go to Japan, don’t use MasterCard credit or debit cards, only a very few ATMs take them whereas Visa is accepted everywhere. I can’t tell you how much frustration and lost time was caused by this one fact.¬†We did manage to have a great time though, regardless.

Later, we headed a few blocks north to the famous Dotonbori Street. This street is packed to the ceiling with restaurants, junk food vendors, novelty shops, bars, clubs, and all sorts of entertainment.

View down Dotonbori StreetMoving crab signMe with a tanukiSo many restaurants on DotonboriJapanese ads on Dotobori

As it got dark out we looked for a place for dinner with one thing on our minds: takoyaki! There were at least a dozen takoyaki shops lining the street, like this one with a giant creepy octopus looming overhead.

Another takoyaki shop

We settled on this one though because they also sold okonomiyaki, a type of half omelet half pancake filled with shredded vegetables and topped with salty sauces.

Takoyaki restaurant stand

We both got shochu to sip on and proceeded to get a little tipsy.

Sipping shochu

The takoyaki we had in Japan were so different than any that we’ve had in the states. They were always barely cooked so that the inside is still liquid and lava hot.

Plate of takoyaki

They gush everywhere when you bite into them!

Jeff eats napalm takoyaki

The okonomiyaki was cooked right at our table and topped with lots of Kewpie mayo and shredded bonito. Sounds gross, and normally I’m not a fan of mayo, but I assure you it’s amazing.

Okonomiyaki on the griddleServing okonomiyaki

We spent most of our time in Osaka doing more of the same: window shopping, walking, and stuffing our faces. I think we had takoyaki 3 times! We were really excited to move on to the next leg of our trip though…

Tomorrow: Kyoto!