Food Travel Asia / Japan / Kyoto

Kyoto Experiences – Day 1 = Subtlety

Kyoto, in my mind, is a magical city. Since I was a child, I remember visiting Kyoto and being awed by its beautiful temples and gardens and of course being wooed by its wonderful food.

I visit Kyoto each time I’m in Japan, yet I feel I have only scratched the surface of it. My challenge in Kyoto is that I’m usually so jammed packed with family obligations, that I never have a lot of free time to explore. Even though I make it a priority to see and eat as much as I can each visit, what ends up happening is that my list never seems to shorten because I discover new things to add or places to revisit.

When my plans to go to Okinawa for this trip fell through, I found I had a few days “free” in Japan and my mind immediately led me to Kyoto. I already had plans to be in Kyoto for a family reunion just a few days later, but I couldn’t think of a more lovely way to slow down comfortably in Japan.

Arriving in Kyoto from Tokyo on the Shinkansen train, I realized that it was the perfect opportunity to  satisfy my tofu craving at Kyotofu Fujino located on the 11th floor of the Isetan department store.

The last time I was in Japan, I had an outstanding tofu meal at Shoraian which made me crave another tofu meal on this trip to Japan. Most people look at me quizzically when I tell them that I craved good tofu, but I understand why. Most people’s visions of tofu are of something you use as a meat substitute usually masked from its original form. What I seek is nothing of the sort, but rather an artisinal product with subtle but distinctly delicious flavors.

"kyotofu fujino soy milk"

Rich and flavorful soy milk to start. One sip of this is enough to make you never want to touch the flavoured tetrapak stuff again.

"kyotofu fujino oboro tofu"

Silky oboro tofu, yuba (beancurd sheet) sashimi, soy bean salad, soymilk white cream korroke (croquette), and rice with deep fried tofu and yuba.

"kyotofu fujino isetan kyoto"

View of Kyoto from the 11th floor of the Isetan Department store. I remembered that the feeling of security from the mountains surrounding Kyoto is one of the reasons why I love the city so much.

I checked into my hotel and started off on foot, happily wandering around one of my favorite cities in the world. I know I’ve been to many of Kyoto’s top sites numerous times in my life, but I never tire of the beauty of them. I didn’t feel like getting on another train, so I thought I’d take a leisurely walk up to Kiyomizu-dera, a temple I haven’t visited in many years.

What I didn’t realize was that Kyoto would be a crazy mess of tourists and my visions of wandering peacefully around the city was met with the reality of this:

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I quickly changed my plans and focus for my few days away from the top tourist sites, to quieter experiences. I am lucky that I have no problem finding joy in the small things and that I have quite a few “lesser known” places to visit on my list for Kyoto.

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While the streets above me were crowded, I was able to take a quiet walk along the banks of the Kamo River.

I started researching sake before my trip because it’s one of those things that I enjoy but know little about. I had some time to kill before dinner so I pulled into Jam Sake Bar, which has over 70 sakes available to taste in various flight options.

Jam sake kyoto

3 generous pours of sake. While I enjoyed them all, I couldn’t really discern the differences in characteristics of the 3. What I did learn in this visit was that for me, sake is best paired with food.

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First sighting of blossoms on my trip!

My 94 year old Great Uncle Arthur is the main reason why my trips to Japan have been more frequent the past many years. Uncle Arthur has been a part of so many of my peak food experiences in my life. He is also a very wise man and has deposited great nuggets of advice and words to live by that I have banked in my mind that makes up the fabric of who I am today.

Seeing as I was in Kyoto without the rest of the reunion go-er’s, I was hoping that my Uncle would have time to go to dinner with me. I reached out to him and was so excited when he was available for dinner. Of course I was going to let him choose where.

It took over a week for Uncle Athur to choose and when he replied, he explained that it is a known fact all over Japan that Kyoto has the best food in the country and while of course, there were many amazing restaurants in Kyoto, he wanted to share some authentic Japanese food with me at the 1* Michelin, Hana Kitcho, a traditional kaiseki restaurant.

Needless to say, when you’re out for dinner with your 94 year old Great Uncle, I felt like my attention had to mostly be directed with our interaction rather than discerning what I was having with each bite, (although I did manage to take photos of course). Very much like what I experienced at Kikunoi, kaiseki cuisine is based on highlighting the best of seasonally fresh ingredients. The flavours are subtle and “clean” and in my mind truly Japanese. Uncle Arthur did an amazing job of choosing a unique Japanese experience for me.

Hana Kitcho Kyoto

Shiitake mushroom with radish and spinach

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Clear soup with tofu and barely cooked fish looked so simple, but the flavour was so gently defined.

Hana Kitcho Kyoto sashimi

Sashimi of maguro (tuna), ika (squid) and tai (snapper)

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Delightful assortment of delicacies

Hana Kitcho Kyoto fish sakana

Seared fish

Hana Kitcho Kyoto bamboo shoots

Always happy to see fresh bamboo shoots!

Hana Kitcho gohan Kyoto

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Hana Kitcho strawberry ichigo kyoto

Mango and strawberry dessert

Asa Jonishi Susy Bando

Thank you Uncle Arthur for a great dinner!

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