Food Travel Asia / Japan / Kyoto

Kyoto Experiences – Day 2 = Everything Fried

After seeing the masses of tourists on my first day in Kyoto, I realized I would have to quickly change my plans if I was going to find the moments of zen I was looking for during my few solo days in Japan. I had planned on visiting some temples in Kyoto and going to Arashiyama during this visit, but crossed them off the list because I knew I’d just be wading through the masses. Instead, I chose the quiet early mornings to explore peacefully, and left the rest of my days free to eat and wander aimlessly on the small side streets away from the crowds.

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Early morning run through the Imperial Palace grounds.

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Early blossoming

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I had arranged to have a “high end” tempura meal with my parents to celebrate their 50th anniversary while we were  in Tokyo at Tempura Fukamachi. Unfortunately, because my flight was delayed a day, I missed out on that meal. My parents had a great time and when I looked at their photos, I knew I had to make up for missing out by finding myself a tempura meal. I remembered I had a conversation with my father-in-law before I left about an amazing tempura dinner he had in Kyoto a few years earlier with my dad. My dad was able to give me the name of Tempura Yoshikawa and I was lucky that for lunch, I could go without reservations and eat at their counter bar.

With only 11 seats, I arrived early so I could snag one of them when the restaurant opened at 11am. I may have been too enthusiastic by arriving at 10:30, but by 10:50, there were 4 other people standing in line with me. Sure, I would have gotten a seat if I’d arrived at 11 or even 11:15, but I live by the motto, “better early than sorry”, for anything eating related.

As I sat and watched the Chef set up his station in preparation for service I became giddy with excitement in anticipation of what I knew was going to be a special lunch. I learned from my last trip to Japan that tempura done at this level can’t be recreated outside of Japan. Tempura in Japan is light and each piece is fried with care to best accentuate the flavour of each delicate ingredient.

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Tempura Yoshikawa Kyoto ebi

Prawn tempura are my favorite and these were fried perfectly. A great start to the meal.

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto fukinoto"

Fukinoto (butter burr)

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto fiddlehead"

Fiddlehead

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto eggplant nasu"

Nasu (eggplant)

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto fu"

Fu (wheat gluten) – I had to write this down and then ask my dad what it was I ate. It just tasted like a blob of gummy to me.

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto taranome"

Taranome (shoots from the Angelica tree)

"kyoto Tempura yoshikawa tachiuo

Tachiuo (beltfish) and Kabocha squash

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto shiitake"

Shiitake mushroom

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto hotate scallop"

Barely cooked hotate  (scallop)

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto corn"

Bebikon (baby corn)

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto anago"

Anago (Sea eel)

"tempura yoshikawa kyoto ebi"

Bonus prawn to end the meal

As I sat, watching my meal being carefully fried, I realized that I was going to be having a full day of fried, as the dinner I’d arranged for that evening was kushikatsu, (fried things on sticks). My mind never second-guessed that choice though, because Tempura Yoshikawa was an incredible experience  and I left the restaurant feeling completely satisfied, knowing I’d walk enough in the day to justify another full meal of all things fried.

When I plan a trip somewhere, I usually check out the NY Times, “36 Hours In” series for ideas and inspiration. “36 Hours in Kyoto” made mention of small kushiage restaurant at the end of a dead-end alley which piqued my interest as I remember my brother mentioning years ago a dinner he’d had where everything was fried on sticks. When I’m dining solo, sitting at a bar is ideal and getting to watch the chef skillfully bread each skewer and then work each in the large vats of oil until cooked perfectly before quickly plating and placing them in front of me was enough to keep me entertained for the meal.

While the tempura meal I’d had earlier in the day was purely traditional, I enjoyed the creativity of many of the items skewered and fried at Kushi Tanaka. The one thing with both though is that each item placed in front of you out of the fryer is piping hot on the inside and best enjoyed eaten as hot as your mouth can stand. There’s a lot of “phoo phoo” moments of steam coming out of your mouth when eating fried meals like these, but I love eating food at this temperature.

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"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto mochi"

#1 – mochi

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto gyu niku"

#2 – Gyuniku cooked medium rare

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto mistuba"

#3 – Mitsuba

Kyoto Kushi Tanaka mitsuba

What looked like a lollipop was barely cooked mistuba (greens)

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto negi buta"

#4 – Negi buta (green onion and pork)

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto mushroom butter"

#5 – mushroom with butter sauce

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto tsubugai"

#6 – tsubugai (whelk)

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"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto ebi"

#7 – ebi (prawn)

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto maitake"

#8 – Maitake mushroom with ham

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto cheese blueberry jam"

#9 – cheese topped with blueberry jam

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto kabocha"

#11 – Kabocha squash

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto kushikatsu kabocha"

Soft and sweet mashed kabocha was one of the best bites.

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto bread crab"

#12 – bread filled with cream cheese and crab

Kushi Tanaka Kyoto  bread cheese

Fried bread with cream cheese and crab was as delicious as you’d imagine it to be.

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto pork belly butabara kushikatsu"

#13 – Butabara (pork belly)

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto oden"

#14 – Oden konyaku & daikon

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto kaki"

#15 – kaki (oyster)

Kushi Tanaka Kyoto  oyster

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"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto quail egg"

#16 – quail egg wrapped in bacon

Kushi Tanaka Kyoto  quail egg

The yolk was amazingly still runny.

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto nama fu"

#17 – Nama fu – interesting that I don’t ever remember eating fu (wheat gluten before) and now I was having it the second time in one day.

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto asparagus kushikatsu"

#18 – Asparagus wrapped in pork

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto aji sakana"

#19 – Aji sakana (horse mackerel) with ginger

Kushi Tanaka Kyoto aji sakana

#20 – Hotate (scallop)

"Kushi Tanaka Kyoto apple"

#21 – Ringo (apple)

Kushi Tanaka Kyoto ringo

Yes even my little dessert was fried!

What do you do when you have a full day eating fried food if you’re me? Wake up at 6:00am the next day to go to Fushimi Inari Taisha and (briskly) walk the path before the tourists get there of course!

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