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Top Dishes to Eat in Kyoto, Japan

Traveling to Japan can be a full-on cuinsinal experience if you want it to be! Kyoto is home to delicious tea, hot soba, and many more dishes that you will definitely want to write home about! So you have the opportunity to try all the best foods and drinks the country has to offer, we’ve compiled a list of the top culinary delights to try when planning a trip to Japan.


TOFU

Wait, don’t click out of this article yet! Americans may know tofu as a bland white brick sold in plastic at health food stores, but it is a completely different story in Kyoto. Tofu appeared in Japan after Buddhism arrived in the 6th century, but it wasn’t until over one thousand years later that it became widely popular. You’ll find dozens, if not hundreds of varieties of tofu throughout the nation, and Kyoto is known for some of the most delicious dishes with tofu as the star. Make sure to try a few and find your favorite!

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GREEN TEA DESSERTS

Matcha is another Asian popular dish that has recently found popularity within the Western world. Here in Kyoto, you’ll be able to find matcha and green tea desserts in every restaurant, matcha cafe, and candy store. From cute matcha latte art to green tea cream puffs, it’ll be a challenge to try them all!

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SOBA

Soba, the Japanese name for buckwheat, is a thin noodle found in a variety of dishes. Served cold with a dipping sauce or hot in a broth with vegetables, it is a staple food of the region. It can be tricky for visitors to eat it with chopsticks, so don’t be afraid to ask for a fork and knife if you need it. 

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KAMO NANBAN

Speaking of noodle dishes, kamo nanban is a soba noodle hot soup with duck or chicken meat and Welsh onions. The chef usually utilizes thigh meat from either poultry and you can pick many sides to go along with the bowl.


OBANZAI

This is a traditional style of consuming meals that originated in Kyoto. At least half of the meal must be produced or processed within Kyoto for it to be considered an obanzai dish, and the ingredients must also be in season. So if you’re eating obanzai, you know your food is local and fresh. What a cool concept! Obanzai cooking relies on vegetables and seafood that is prepared simply. This is one of the best ways to get to know the region’s cuisine and we highly recommend!


HAMO TEMPURA

Hamo is a fish that resides in the waters around central and south Japan and famously represents Kyoto cuisine during the summer months. Though it can be eaten marinated, sauteed, and in potted dishes, tempura is the most popular way to consume the fish. Of course, because tempura is battered and fried food, this fried fish is a staple for many that visit Kyoto.


KYO WAGASHI

Served with matcha in traditional tea rooms, kyo wagashi is a famous Kyoto sweet served with sweet red bean paste. While this doesn’t sound too appetizing, Wagashi represents many different types of dessert-like meal finishers that the Japanese love. You can be served many types of wagashi in tea rooms, and we suggest you try them all!


3D MATCHA LATTE

So we’ve spoken about matcha lattes, but 3D? Crazy, but popular in Kyoto, 3D matcha lattes are made when baristas shape the frothy foam on top of the latte and create art. From images of kittens to emojis, the latte art is fascinating and makes for a great Instagram post! Kyoto is famous for its tea, and this branch of presentation is equally funny and fascinating.

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BUDDHIST SHOJIN RYORI

This way of cooking, popular amongst Buddhist monks in Japan, combines cuisine and religious tradition. Shojin traditionally translated as the zeal in which one progresses along the path of enlightenment, while ryori is to cook. So, cooking with Buddhist zeal means, at least in Kyoto, that the chefs preserve the energy of the food by focusing on natural ingredients and vegetable bases. They believe that cooking with flesh and strong flavors (such as garlic) cloud one’s judgment and interfere with meditation. By participating in Shojin Ryori, you’re paying for an experience as well as carefully crafted cuisine. Definitely an experience to have while in Kyoto!


Have any of these dishes caught your eye? If you’re planning your trip to Japan, make sure to check out our Kyoto expedition. If you want to learn more about Japanese culture, you can read our article on tea ceremonies or the artisan experiences you must have while you’re there. Thanks for reading!


Xoxo,

Grace Poulos

Follow her adventures on Instagram!