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.
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.
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.
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!