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Food Culture in Kyoto


Food Culture in Kyoto

Kyoto, as the capital of Japan for over 1200 years, was the kitchen of the Imperial Court. Top-ranking nobles inherited a multitude of refined cuisines, including specialties unique to Kyoto such as elegant “Kyo-kaiseki-ryori,” vegetarian-friendly “Shojin-ryori”, and “Obanzai” for everyday dining. Today, Kyoto remains the home of traditional Japanese cuisine, and there are many specialty eateries for sushi, tempura, soba, and ramen. It was the efforts of Kyoto chefs that resulted in “Washoku,” or Japanese cuisine, being recognized as an intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2013. Kyoto is also famous throughout Japan for traditional Japanese sweets, some of which are used in the Japanese tea ceremony (the tea also comes from Kyoto). Needless to say, eating in Kyoto is a rich and multifaceted experience!

There is a unique regional rule in Kyoto City which is called“Raise toasts with Nihonshu” that was passed in 2013. The purpose of this rule is to promote various traditional industries in Kyoto by using locally-produced Nihonshu (sake) when raising toasts, and in so doing contribute to Japanese culture.


This is an artistic and gracious Japanese seasonal cuisine. In fact, it can be said that Kaiseki-ryori is the ultimate Japanese cuisine. Kaiseki-ryori uses the fresh ingredients of the season and is cooked in ways that enhance the original taste of the ingredients. Each dish is simply seasoned and presented beautifully in exquisite dinnerware. Often, items from nature such as tree leaves and flowers accompany the dishes. Kaiseki was vegetarian in its origin, but nowadays, the modern kaiseki meal may include meat and seafood. Kaiseki is regarded as the greatest culinary refinement in Japan. The seasoning base is composed fish and vegetables, and is characterized by its refined savor.

Yu Do-fu

Tofu is made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curd into blocks. The making of tofu from soy milk is similar to processing cheese from milk. Yu do-fu is easy to make, low in calories and fat, and is ideal for dinner in the winter. Cut tofu into small cubes, put a large-sized ceramic pot over low heat at the table, add tofu into the pot and simmer, and eat boiled tofu dipping in the sauce. Be careful not to burn your tongue. Yu do-fu is one of the feature winter dishes of Kyoto. There are many yu-dofu eateries around Nanzen-ji, which are popularly known for serving the signature "Nanzenji Dofu". If you visit Nanzen-ji Temple in the winter, we recommend experiencing "Nanzenji Dofu".


Sushi is one of the most characteristic dishes of Japanese cuisine. It is made of lightly vinegared rice and combined with fresh seasonal ingredients ranging from seafood to vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, and meat which may be raw, cooked, blanched or marinated. Sushi is best eaten with the hands. Sushi, a healthy food, is experiencing a wave of popularity the world over as the number of sushi restaurants mushrooms. Sushi originates from the practice of preserving salted fish by fermenting it in rice for months, a tradition which can be traced back to ancient Japan. In the past sushi was expensive and beyond the reach of commoners. Though the image of sushi as a luxury persists, the advent of kaiten (rotating) sushi restaurants and sushi-making robots means the price of sushi has become much more affordable.


Tempura is a traditional dish consisting of seafood and vegetables dipped in a batter of flour and cold water and then fried. It ranks with sushi as the most popular of Japanese foods overseas. There are countless opportunities to enjoy tempura in Japan, from reasonably priced teishoku (lunch sets) shops to high-class ryotei restaurants. In many cases, the tempura is prepared right before your eyes. The method of eating tempura varies from place to place, but in most cases it's sprinkled with salt and dipped in sauce.



Noodles have been around for a long time in Japan. The Kansai region of Japan is famous for its “Udon” (noodles made from flour with salt water), however, “Soba” (noodles made from buckwheat flour) and “Ramen” (Japanese noodle dish of Chinese origin) are also becoming popular. The delicious light gold soup used in “Udon” has a mild hint of soy sauce. Meanwhile, Nishin soba has its origins in Kyoto and is popular for its delicious sweet combination of boiled Nishin (herring) and soup. Definitely take some time to enjoy the delicious noodles of Kyoto.


This is a kind of cuisine eaten mainly by Buddhist followers. It is known as "Shojin-ryori" in Japan, and prohibits inclusion of meat, fish, onion, leek garlic and other root vegetables, as harvesting them will result in the death of the vegetables. Instead beans and fruits are used. This strict diet is often practiced only on special occasions. Shojin-ryori was originally brought to Japan by monks who studied in China. As time has passed, it has been adapted to the ingredients and customs of Kyoto. Since it's both healthy and delicious, shojin-ryori's fans are on the rise. If you decide to go a temple to sample shojin-ryori, advance reservations are recommended.


Sukiyaki, which features thinly sliced beef in an iron hot pot along with other ingredients in a seasoned soy sauce broth, has been around since the 19thcentury and is one of the most popular beef dishes among the Japanese. Shabu-shabu, on the other hand, is a comparatively new Japanese dish in which the same ingredients used in sukiyaki are added to a broth in a hot pot. When the ingredients are cooked, they are dipped in sesame sauce or ponzu (soy sauce and citrus juice) prior to eating. The beef in both dishes is typically of the highest quality.

Other Japanese Food

Among Japanese food, this section mainly introduces restaurants where you can try traditional dishes such as “Obanzai” and “Bubuzuke”. “Obanzai” is a traditional Kyoto creation using seasonal vegetables while “Bubuzuke” is known as a Japanese dish which involves pouring a green tea broth over rice with tsukemono (pickles). Both are typical Japanese dishes of Kyoto and have been popular for many years. In addition, cuisine using “unagi” (eel) and “suppon” (Chinese softshell turtle) and “sumibi-yaki”, a type of mini barbeque, should also not be missed.

Foreign Cuisines

Japan has witnessed an explosion of foreign restaurants, representing almost every country in the world. There are a particularly large number of French, Italian, and Chinese restaurants, and many superb establishments serving cuisine that cannot be said to derive from any one particular country. The Japanese of course love Japanese food but increasingly are adapting the world's various culinary styles into their meals.

Cafe & Sweets

This section mainly introduces “Wagashi”, Japanese sweets, and “matcha”, Japanese green tea, which are specialties in Kyoto. Desserts which come as part of set meals are good but don’t miss the wagashi and matcha in Kyoto! Below, you can find information on Wagashi cafés which are popular among the young and cafés for enjoying coffee.

Japanese Sake

Sake (also known as Nihonshu) is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from fermented rice, koji (often translated as rice malt or yeast made from rice) and water. It resembles white wine in appearance, ranging from almost transparent to slightly yellow in coloration. The alcohol content is typically about 10-20%. Sake can be enjoyed either hot or cold.

There are countless regional varieties of sake. Kyoto’s soft water has long been the lifeblood of the breweries of the Fushimi district, one of Japan’s oldest and most prominent centers of sake production.

There is a unique regional rule in Kyoto City which is called “日本酒で乾杯- Raise toasts with Nihonshu“ and which was begun in 2013. The purpose of this rule is to promote various traditional industries in Kyoto with the refined taste of Nihonshu (sake) and to contribute to Japanese culture.

Please enjoy learning about Nihonshu (sake) by visiting Kyoto, one of the sake capitals of Japan!


This section introduces the materials most often used in Japanese Kyoto cuisine such as “shichimi” used for flavoring noodle dishes, “O-fu”, “Yuba” and so on. O-fu, a versatile ingredient made from wheat gluten, is used for hot pot dishes such as Sukiyaki (Beef hot pot). There are two varieties of O-fu. “Nama-fu” is a raw version and “Yaki-fu” is a baked version. You can enjoy a spongy taste with Nama-fu and a crispy taste with Yaki-fu. Yuba is a famous product in Kyoto and known as an expensive and healthy ingredient. Yuba is the skin that forms from boiling soymilk in a shallow pan and can be enjoyed in various ways. For example, it can be eaten raw or as an ingredient in hot pots or Kaiseki cuisine.


Eat & Drink