Following on from Eating in Japan – Koyasan, my sister and I travelled to Kyoto for a few nights. Fortunately, our hotel was very close to the Nishiki markets – a hubbub of activity with several restaurants and food stalls, also known as ‘Kyoto’s pantry’. Walking through the tight alleys in the undercover area was slow, purely due to the number of people in the area. I just love the excitement of a market – so much to see and so many things to eat!

I never got a chance to try the squid stuffed with egg on a stick – something I always saw in anime/manga.

I loved this traditional tea store at the markets with a variety of tea leaves in antiquated tea canisters lining the back wall. Tea is weighed before being placed into paper packets and sealed. The guy in the yellow shirt is stamping a purchased bag of tea with the store’s seal. They were busy with other customers at the time so I didn’t end up buying any tea for myself, but I would love to go back to this shop. As the shop’s name was in Japanese, I have no idea what it was called but I’m sure it was the only one of its kind at the Nishiki markets.

Nishiki Ichiha at the markets specialises in matcha so it’s basically matcha heaven. I dropped in to try its signature dessert, the Nishiki Ichiha matcha fondue. I haven’t been able to convert my sister to the matcha world, and since each person is obligated to order something off the menu, she sat this one out. After providing my order and my pot of tea, a large wooden box with two drawers and a large pot of matcha fondue on top was placed in front of me. I had to take the lid off and unpeg the drawers to reveal the two drawers underneath.

The presentation in a 3-tiered wooden box was beautiful. Starting at the top, the big bowl of matcha fondue was so creamy and thick, with pure matcha goodness shining through without being overly bitter.

The middle drawer contained an assortment of namafu, mini sponge cake, sweet potato and chestnuts. These had been placed on sticks ready for dipping into the warm matcha fondue.

The bottom drawer had fruits, dango and mochi on sticks, as well as black soy beans decorated with gold foil.

The bittersweet matcha fondue was PERFECTION. I thoroughly enjoyed this treat and took my time with it. I should have asked if I could have taken the uneaten fondue away. If matcha fondue isn’t your thing, there are other matcha desserts as well as matcha noodles on the menu.

I was lucky enough to be sitting close to the window looking out towards a small garden and had the below view to look at. Just beautiful. There is a small table right in front of the window looking out to the garden, however it is only available for 4 people or more.

I was told by the waitress that the tea in my tea pot was the store’s own brand of hojicha. Nishiki Ichiha’s shop front is also a small store where several teas are available for sale. I really liked the mellow hojicha and ended up purchasing a box to take home with me. I’ve completely demolished it and am now on the hunt for the same tea in Canberra, but they just don’t taste the same.

Of course, there was an assortment of Uji matcha powder available for purchase too. There were three different gradings of matcha available – the higher the grading the higher the price. The lowest grade (bronze label) cost ¥1,000, the middle (silver label) cost ¥1,500, while the high end grade (gold label) cost a whopping ¥3,500! Quite a significant different in prices between the middle and top grades. I’ve read that the highest quality matcha is used for ceremonial purposes. I purchased the silver label and brought it back home with me. (I love tea and spent about AUD $200 on packets of Japanese tea during this trip!).

Onto some ramen. Kyoto Gogyo was a ramen shop on my list of places to visit and famous for its burnt miso ramen. It is also very close to the Nishiki markets and just off a side alley.

There was already a queue when we got there, and we were the third table on the wait list. I love that restaurants provide seats outside for those waiting in the queue.

We were there for the burnt miso ramen, so ordering was pretty easy. We ordered the kogashi miso-men (burnt miso) with char siu (¥1,130).

The menu states that the broth is prepared with lard flambeed in more than 300 degrees Celsius. You can see that the broth is pure blackness. I could smell a rich aroma as it was placed in front of me. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as salty as I had expected. The broth had a slight smokey burnt flavour and left a smokey aftertaste, but there was a good balance of salty and sweet, and awesome umami.

Some bits of the burnt miso clung to the ramen which had a lovely chewy texture.

After our ramen, we headed out for a walk along the Philosopher’s Path, deemed by the travel guides to be a nice walk particularly to view cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, the cherry blossoms were already fading away during this period. But I did get to enjoy cherry blossom ice cream at one of the stalls in the touristy section.

We also passed by a stall selling custard filled choux pastries and I couldn’t resist buying one with cherry blossom flavoured custard in it.

I ordered one as a sundae with vanilla soft serve on top. But honestly, I couldn’t taste any flavour in the custard!

After an afternoon of walking and sightseeing, my sister went back to our hotel with a headache, while I ventured on taking my time at the Nishiki Markets to hunt for some dinner. I decided to try this tiny cheap stand-up soba and udon shop called Miyako. The cheapest bowl was ¥240 (about AUD $2.90).

The shop was tiny with an open kitchen and small counter to eat the noodles. All ingredients were already prepped and the chef’s main task was boiling the noodles as they were ordered.

I decided to try the Kizami dish for ¥310 (about AUD $3.60) which was udon topped with thinly sliced fried tofu. The broth was very plain and light, but I had no complaints. This was warm and so cheap!

The next morning, we had a quick breakfast near our hotel. It had been so long since we’d had Western food, that we both ordered toast. I found underneath that layer of cheese, was a layer of mayonnaise. I can understand that balance of sweet mayo with savoury cheese, but it just seemed wrong to me! We were also provided with ‘gum syrup’ but I definitely didn’t need to make anything sweeter. My matcha latte was perfection though.

We headed to Arashiyama – the bamboo forest of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon fame. Some of the bamboo are up to 35m high! My camera lens wasn’t big enough to capture the full height of the bamboo. They were a beautiful sight especially when swaying in the breeze. We saw a few brides and grooms taking their wedding photos here.

After sightseeing around the Arashiyama area, we headed back into Kyoto for lunch. On my list of places to try was Menbakaichidai, home of the fire ramen. We were seated at the counter in front of the kitchen as staff prepared our meals. Fire ramen eaters can only sit at the counter. If you want to order off the regular menu, you can sit at any of the tables. There was actually a roped queue at the front door with instructions on where to sit so it must get pretty busy.

I loved the staff t-shirts – No Ramen No Life, and regret not buying one while I was there.

At the time, there was only one type of fire ramen that could be ordered, and this could be ordered in different sets to include rice, gyoza etc. We both stuck with a bowl of fire ramen for ¥1,150.

We were provided with a list of rules before things heated up. The sign reassures us that the owner just has a permanent angry face. Too funny. After we put our bibs on, the owner provided both my sister and I with hair ties to pull our hair up to prevent it from being singed. Then asked for our mobile phones so he could take a photo of each of us pulling funny faces.

Our bowls of ramen were placed in front of us filled with very hot oil. We were instructed very loudly to not touch the bowl. With hands behind our backs, the majority of us had to lean back for what was to come.

And this is why…

Happy to report no burnt eyebrows or other parts.

The ramen itself was very simple with a light broth filled with lots of green onion. There was no meat or egg, probably because they would have been burnt to a crisp. Awesome theatrics and I think it is something people should try just for the fun.

After lunch, we walked over to Nijo Castle for some sightseeing. At the end of the castle route, I came across more gold leaf ice cream! After trying this in Osaka, I was happy to try it again, this time with dried strawberries. I’ve forgotten the price of this but I think it was around ¥800.

Our early mornings on this trip were catching up to us, so we decided to have an early dinner before retiring back to the hotel. My sister suggested going to Chao Chao Gyoza which she had read was highly recommended by tourists on TripAdvisor. As we were early, we got two stools at the counter inside. There were so many gyoza options – flavours I never knew existed.

It was difficult to choose what to order with so many options. This place definitely needs more than one sitting.

We found out that each person is obligated to order a drink so my sister and I both ordered lemonade.

We were in prime position to watch the chef cook all of the gyoza.

We started off with the house pan-fried gyoza – Chao Chao gyoza filled with pork (¥320). I loved the crispy bits! The gyoza were fat and juicy.

We enjoyed sampling one of the 8 piece gyoza sets (¥620) which came with four different fillings – shrimp, mushroom, curry and onion. I liked the curry gyoza the best.

My sister and I both love seafood, so the 180mm crab and shrimp gyoza sticks (¥800 for 2) were a must order. I placed my iphone 6 against the plate as a comparison. This was our favourite gyoza of the night, so much so that we ordered a second serve.

Like a regular okonomiyaki, the okonomiyaki gyoza (¥430) were topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and bonito flakes. Tasty.

My sister chose the gyoza covered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese which came with a side of pesto. I didn’t like it with tomato sauce or the pesto, but I didn’t mind the cheese. It just didn’t do it for me and I much prefer the regular Japanese toppings.

Our waitress recommended we try the deep fried chicken wings (¥300 for 2) which had been stuffed with shrimp and cabbage. The chicken was slightly crispy on the outside, hot and juicy.

There was a pretty decent filling inside too. Yum, I’d order it again.

Lastly, we had to finish off with chocolate gyoza and vanilla ice cream (¥400) for dessert. These were small square pieces of solid chocolate wrapped in dumpling skin and then fried. No complaints 🙂

We were so glad that we had gotten to the restaurant early. This was the queue on our way out! So many people waiting in the cold – all of them tourists who must have read the same TripAdvisor comments haha.

That’s all for now. I’ll continue the rest of my Kyoto foodie adventures in the next chapter.

Nishiki Markets and Nishiki Ichiha: 〒604-8054 Kyoto Prefecture, Kyoto (in the Nishiki Markets)
Kyoto Gogyo: 〒604-8121 Kyoto Prefecture
Miyako: Somewhere on Kawaramachi Street near Saiin station.

Menbakaichidai: 757-2, Minamiiseyacho, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto-Shi
Nijo Castle: 541 Nijojocho, Nakagyo Ward
Chao Chao Gyoza: 116 Ishiyacho (Kiyamachidori), Nakagyo Ward

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