Eating My Way Through Kyoto

Second Stage

Japanese cuisine is very much underestimated. I recently revisited Kyoto and, as with all of my travels, “ate my way through the city”. Never did I walk away from any restaurant or cafe saying: “We don’t have to come here again”. Susan F Stirn, U S Embassy Tokyo 1983, states: “It is said French food appeals to the tongue, Chinese food to the stomach and Japanese food pleases the eye, the palate and stomach.” She is absolutely correct. There is such a wide diversity of foods. All were prepared and served with immense pride.

First one has to open their mind when traveling and enjoy that country’s specialties and subtle differences. In Japan, the food is fresh – be it vegetables, noodles or fish. There is an obvious lack of obese children and adults. Whether we were dining at high end authentic Japanese cuisine or a Raman house in Kyoto station, the service was always excellent. Always upon seeing my twenty two month old granddaughter with us, we were provided (without asking), a high chair with baby utensils – plate, fork, spoon and even “training chopsticks”. Seeing I placed my purse on the floor, the staff immediately provided a chair or bench so it would be kept clean. Like my experiences in Italy, eating is a social event and we were never rushed. However, I learned to carry my own towelettes. Napkins are not always provided.  A moist cloth or a bagged towelette is provided once you are seated. Usually at the end of the meal it is presented again.

The ultimate pleasure here is no tipping. Tipping is neither given nor expected.  Larger hotel meals might add a 10 -15% charge, but we did not run across this in our day to day meals.

At each restaurant or cafe, we were greeted at the door with a welcoming bow and a smile.  After we removed our shoes and placed them in a cubicle or left them neatly on the rock floor, we were shown to our tables.  More traditional meals were served on a tatami floor around a low seating table.

For an authentic, totally fresh dining experience go to Manzaratei in Central Kyoto on Kawaramachi Street.  The coziness and warmth of this Japanese restaurant cannot be overstated. Leave your shoes on the paved rocks before you step onto the hardwood floors. Inside a warm, welcoming glow leads you down the narrow hallway surrounded by smaller eating rooms, to your own private room.  Our group of seven adults and two children were seated in the traditional style as several geisha dressed waitresses entered with our preordered dishes.

We all whispered “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”) before eating and gochisosama (deshita)” (“Thank you for the meal”) after finishing the meal.

All in all I counted at least thirteen petite sized individual servings.  All served in the exquisitely decorated small plates or bowls. The dishes were delicately prepared. Foods I would not have selected such a radishes, daikon and pickled vegetables were slowly devoured, and I relished every morsel.

My favorite here was a clear broth with a small abalone. This was perfectly prepared tender abalone in a clear delicious broth.  It was a refreshing change from the abalone steak we eat in California – when we can get it.

The second eatery is in the Sanjo area.  It is known for Tonkatsu, a pork cutlet, breaded and fried. We sat at the bar while two – three chefs prepared the preordered feast of Tonkatsu. I lost count of the delicious entrees but there was not one I didn’t eat or like.  Each serving was individually presented to the diner along with a side dish with three dipping sauces: One for the fish; one for the meat and one that was a bit spicy. Thinly stripped vegetables were provided as another side dish of various salts (not Morton’s).

My favorite here was two clams in a tasty, sweet broth. I also enjoyed the various “fried dishes” which were neither greasy nor deeply fried for a long time.  No gastronomic catastrophes here.

I cannot neglect mentioning sushi or sashimi. Raw fish is not for everybody but we have been eating it for years and have no qualms about eating it at restaurants we know or are highly recommended. My son’s favorite is Sushi-at-uosh.  We entered this energetic environment with shoes on and were seated at a booth.  We could see three chefs preparing the food and laughing, joking amongst each other or with people seated at the bar.

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW BOCK

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW BOCK

The maguro, yellowtail, salmon, mackerel and ebi were the freshest of the fresh and prepared to perfection.  When we were seated, a highly excited waiter came immediately to our table and showed us a morsel food placed on a plate.  I followed my son and daughter-in-law’s lead by nodding my head up and down, smile on my face and said “ooh and hah”. My son asked if I knew what it was – of course, I didn’t.  It must be good because everyone was smiling. He went on to explain that it was the heart of a tuna freshly caught.  They were showing this to us to demonstrate how fresh their fish is.  I don’t know if my son was playing with me (very possible), but he asked me if I noticed it was still beating.

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