After just a few hours on the Shinkansen (high-speed train), I was transported from a vast, vibrant city to the historical and cultural hub of Kyoto. As it was the old capital city, it comes as no surprise that Kyoto is filled with ancient sites, high culture and many traditional customs.
Kiyomizudera (Pure Water Temple) is particularly beautiful in the spring. The panoramic views of the city are well worth the climb and there are many places of worship located within the site – you’ll find yourself walking around for hours!
On the way to the temple, I picked up some steamed beef buns from Cafe Kihachiro. While I’m used to Chinese steamed pork buns, these Japanese beef filled ones were a whole new experience for me. A soft, airy bun filled with a tasty, rich beef filling. A must-try if you’re in the area!
Gion is the famous Geisha district in Kyoto and although sightings are rare during the day, you’ll often find them fleetingly pass between the restaurants and tea houses at night. The old style buildings are quaint and the wooden architecture is what defines this area and gives it real character.
Just a stone throw’s away, JAM Hostel and Bar offer Sake tasting which allows you to sample a selection of sakes for a reasonable price. For 1,000 Yen you can sample a selection of 3 sakes – I chose a local selection from Kyoto and also a seasonal selection which included some made from blooming cherry blossom flowers. Not as potent as other spirits and with some rice flavoured undertones, the subtle flavours and light consistency meant that these went down very easily.
Another restaurant in the area offers a delicious type of pancake called yissen yoshoku which is a variation of okonomiyaki. The front of the restaurant also serves as an open plan kitchen. You can watch the chefs carefully pile up the ingredients on top of a crêpe-like base before onions, egg and sliced pork is added. This is then folded up like an omelette before sauce is added.
Kyoto is full of beautiful gardens and green landscapes which really makes you appreciate the nature of Japan. Elements of earth and water are combined to create complete balance and tranquility.
Dango is available from many of the street food outlets and are basically small dumplings made from rice flour which is what gives them that sticky consistency. Heated on skewers over hot coals, they are served with a variety of sauces (I went for matcha tea).
With more than 100 shops, stalls and restaurants, Nishiki Market really is the curious foodie’s dream. A lot of the vendors are keen to offer samples which allows you to try a variety of local delicacies and flavours.
Dried fish and pickled vegetables
Marinated fish and octopus skewers
Fish heads and sweet potato skewers
An assortment of Japanese mochi
Cherry blossom bean paste mochi
Fried fish cakes
Japanese rice crackers
The Fushimi Inari-taisha shrine is a popular attraction which is most notable for its red pillars. For those that are more active, there are also several hiking trails which can be accessed through the shrine.
While surrounded by beautiful cherry blossom trees, what could be more fitting than trying a cherry blossom ice cream? Many of the seasonal snacks found during this time of year incorporate a blend of floral and cherry tones.
This is another lovely historic area by the river which has lots of traditional restaurants and tea houses. The streets are very narrow and are lined with a range of enticing eateries.
One restaurant drew me in with their live window display which showed juicy meat skewers being carefully prepared. The final result was served with a sweet satay-style sauce and plenty of spring onion garnish.
Once inside, the setting was very traditional and made for a unique Japanese experience. Downstairs, diners were seated along a bar facing the open plan kitchen while the chefs prepared a variety of noodle and hot pot dishes. Upstairs, shoes were removed and low tables were provided with cushions on the floor for seating.
The first noodle dish was a popular spicy noodle broth with beef which was not for the faint-hearted. The bowls were absolutely massive and the hearty, warming dish certainly kept the night chill at bay. The second bowl of noodles consisted of pork broth noodle soup which although was more subtle in flavour, was also extremely satisfying.
One of the highlights of Kyoto is definitely the Golden Pavilion. Set on a beautiful tranquil lake, the impressive and statuesque landmark is well worth a visit.
As well as serving as great photo opportunities, trying new foods can also awaken those tired tasetbuds and this black sesame ice cream was just the ticket. Like a lot of Asian flavours, this was neither sweet nor savoury but instead gave a bittersweet aftertaste.
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in Kyoto is a peaceful haven of tranquility. The giant bamboo stretches up several metres high and makes you feel as if you’re enclosed in your own personal space.
These doughnuts which could be found at the site were made from soy milk and you can watch them being freshly prepared for you. They’re not overly sweet and aren’t as heavy as a regular doughnut so are perfect for a quick pick-me-up.
As there’s so much to do in Kyoto, you’ll find your days filled with lots of walking and dashing between places. I liked that there is always something to eat wherever you are and the abundance of street food and snacks that are available are sure to keep you going until your next meal. My advice is to try as much as possible and really embrace some of the more unusual flavours that are available!