We had a food tour scheduled for our first full day in Kyoto, but since it didn’t start until 10:30 we found a bite to eat at the train station along the way:
The hot chocolate was actually pretty tasty.
Also found via Trip Advisor (as were most of our activities on this trip), this food tour is run by a guy from Minnesota, Jason (whom I will refer to as Other Jason), who’s been living in Kyoto for a little over 11 years. He told us that it takes the Japanese a decade to accept strangers; so, after living in the same neighborhood for ten years, marrying a local woman, and teaching English at the local elementary school, he finally crossed the time deadline into acceptance. Once he was on everyone’s good side, Other Jason made arrangements with several of his local food stall vendors to bring foreigners to them and sample their wares.
It was fun to see him interacting with his neighbors. Many people greeted him as we walked around – parents of his students, neighbor and such; and he obviously had a great rapport with the vendors we met along the way. It was also useful to have an American ex-pat lead the tour – the similar background made it easier for him to identify in advance what would probably be foreign or unknown to us and provide necessary explanations.
We met Other Jason at Momoyamagoryomae Station in the southern part of Kyoto. Although it’s not too far from the shrine Fushimi Inari-taisha (which we visited the next day), this station landed us in a mostly residential neighborhood, one we would not normally visit.
Once the other half of our group arrived, a woman from San Francisco and her teeenage daughter, Other Jason led us to a small stall near the station:
This mother-and-son team sells fried cod fish sticks. We had a choice of cod and ginger or cod wrapped around some kind of root vegetable. I tried them both:
(The ginger one was better.)
As we ate, several locals came up and bought baggies full of the sticks. Other Jason explained that they usually sell out by mid-afternoon. Previous travelers have asked him why they don’t make more if they do so well. Other Jason explained that it’s a different philosophy here – they make what they need to get by and that’s enough.
Next up, this place:
A food market that’s been around for centuries, it was covered over a few decades ago in an attempt to make it feel more Parisian. There are clothing and other shops in there now, but many food stalls as well.
It was a hopping place for a Monday morning, and we made several stops here, the first of which was my favorite food of the tour:
Two sisters run this shop, primarily making tenrinyaki – sweet pancakes here filled with either white bean paste or custard. Again, we sampled both (custard wins) along with some sweet, thick, cold ginger drink:
This butcher shop also serves up koroke (croquettes),
made fresh by this lady:
I sampled the squash-filled one (“kabocha”). Delicious! The owner also gave each of us a glass of barley tea as she practiced her English with us. She’s pretty good at it, and another old lady who came in (possibly a relative of the owner?) pointed out the baseball posters pasted on the sides of the grill. “That’s her grandson,” Other Jason explained. “He’s a professinal baseball player.” She beamed with pride and patted his picture.
Stop #4 was a combination flower store and pickle shop that’s been run by the same family for 14 generations:
We sampled sweetened beans, eggplant, baby watermelon (!), radish, konnyaku (a kind of potato), pickled plum (which was incredibly sour, salty, and disgusing), and a rice ball:
Stp #5 was a freshwater fish shop:
that gave us more barely tea:
and oomaki (a rolled omlet with eel inside):
Stop #6 was Ishiguro – a grocery and deli that’s been around since 1893.
From left to right: okara (tofu by-product), pickled smelt, sunomono (pickles with a bit of octopus or possibly squid), kelp, and hijiki (sea grass).
We sampled the food, generally avoiding the smelt until Jason 1.0 noticed that the San Franciscan mom had quietly consumed the entire smelt. The gastronoical gauntlet had been thrown down!
Stop #7 – An umami shop for dashi-making supplies, specifically dried kelp and bonito:
Bonito are dried fish flakes that are made from petrified fish:
which are grated on a wooden box like this:
The shop owners let us try both the typical mackerel kind and the high-grade maquero (tuna).
They also gave us samples of kelp candy:
Stop #8 was a saltwater fish shop:
That gave us a nice little sashimi platter:
They also insisted that we try the little dried fish from the barrel up front:
Apparently I did a better job than I thought at hiding my utter disgust and dismay at the thought of eatig those little guys, because the owner came around a second time and upped my sample:
To my credit, I did eat a couple before being rescued by Other Jason, who ate my remaining samples for me.
Our last stop, #9, was a green tea shop outside of the market:
They store their tea leaves in these tin-lined wooden boxes: