If this is your first visit to Kyoto, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the food choices. Here’s a guide to what’s available, and to what you should make sure you don’t miss.
1. Kaiseki: This is one dining style that is particular to Kyoto, and is one of its most long-running food traditions. Originally composed of one soup and three smaller dishes, it now consists of a long many-course meal, frequently including sashimi, soup, several entrees, rice, dessert, and frequently even more. A traditional kaiseki meal will focus on the current season and attempt to showcase the seasonal ingredients. Hyotei and Kikunoi are the best known kaiseki restaurants in Kyoto, and the two compete for the title of best.
2. Shabu Shabu: A more interactive form of dining, shabu shabu is known as huo guo in Chinese, suki in Thai, and hot pot in English. Here, you’re provided with a boiling pot of broth in which you cook raw ingredients like steak, seafood, and vegetables. If you’re lucky, tender thin strips of wagyu beef are on the menu. Upon cooking, ingredients can be dipped in delicious sauces, which are usually sesame-based. And after you’re done with the other ingredients, noodles or rice are added to the now-flavorful broth to make a delicious bowl of noodle soup.
3. Okonomi-yaki: A less familiar dish is the okonomi-yaki, similar to a crepe or pancake. A variety of ingredients can be incorporated into its floury dough, such as veggies, seafood, and/or kimchi, and it’s then fried on a hot skillet or pan.
4. Teppan-yaki: Okonomi-yaki is just one of the dishes cooked up at a teppan-yaki restaurant, where noodles, meat, seafood, and vegetables are also cooked on a iron plate. At certain places (particularly expensive and/or touristy ones!) this is done in front of customers on a huge hotplate in the middle of the tables.
5. Noodles: Can’t figure out what’s what? Soba noodles are thinner and made from buckwheat flour, udon noodles are thicker and made from lighter wheat flour, and ramen are generally made thin light wheat flour. All can be served with different toppings, but mostly all three are served in a broth with some combination of meat, seafood, vegetables, and/or eggs.
[photo courtesy of pelican]