It is no secret that we have been looking forward to coming to Japan for some time now. Not just because we love the culture and the people but we love food too.
One of the things we had struggled with was trying out different traditional foods in restaurants. We, of course, don’t know any Japanese and so we didn’t quite know what we were ordering. There are plenty of dishes not just specific to Japan but also Kyoto itself so we needed some help. Ninja Food Tours saved us and sent us on their food tour Kyoto to try all the best food Kyoto had to offer.
About The Tour
Our guide for the evening was Moe, she was lovely bright and intelligent. She was actually born in Kyoto and lives just an hour away in Osaka, so she can point you in the direction for best spots to visit there too. You can tell Moe has a great passion for food, travel and meeting people herself and was happy to answer all my questions about Japanese culture.
We were booked onto the Kyoto Food Night Tour which lasted 3 hours and started at 5pm. We were asked beforehand if we had any allergies or aversions to any foods. The tour is 9,500 JPY (+ 8% tax) per person which works out at £64.45/ $84.40. The meeting point was easy to find as it was a Starbucks by Nishiki Market. (link to Cora’s post or specialised post)The food tour Kyoto takes you through different environments to eat and drink to experience Japanese culture and food.
Ninja food tours also provide cooking classes and sake tasting as well as tours in Tokyo and Osaka. All things to keep in mind if you are wanting to get an in-depth view of food across Japan.
How To Book The Tour
To book the tour it is simple and easy to do, head to ‘Ninja Food Tours’ website, find the Kyoto Night Tour and book now. There will be a list of dropdowns for you to pick the city in which you want to take the tour and then which tour in that city.
A calendar will come up and you can choose the date you wish. There is a maximum of 8 people per tour and a minimum of 2 people. You have to be over 20 to consume the alcohol on the tour. Once you have booked you will receive an email and all details on where to meet your guide and location will be included. Along with helpful tips on the best station to go to if using public transport.
The Food On The Food Tour Kyoto
There were 6 main stops on the tour, we started at the meeting point and got to know our guide and others on the tour before setting off. We introduced ourselves, where we were from and our favourite Japanese dish.
Moe introduced us to sake, the traditional Japanese alcoholic rice wine. The particular brand we tried was from a family that had been producing sake in Japan for over 300 years.
Our first official stop was within Niskiki market, we had previously been in the market that day on our way back from Nijo Castle. We stopped roughly halfway down the market strip to the end where we got doughnuts. They were soy milk doughnuts and were very fresh, they were made bite size and delicious. The doughnuts were cooked in rice oil so they felt much lighter and less greasy than I had experienced before. I could have easily eaten the bag to myself!
The second stop on the tour was to a small place in the market. This place we noticed before as they were selling little custard pastries in the shapes of hedgehogs which were so cute! It also has been quite famous in the community and has been featured in many papers and articles.
We were served dried Yuba, (which is the liquid skin that forms when making tofu) cooked with mushrooms and greens in a soy and mirin sauce. The second dish was boiled dried tofu squares cooked in fish sauce. We tried both and personally out of the two I prefer the first dish as it had much more flavour to it.
Onto our next stop which was again featured in Nishiki market was a fried (tempura) fish place. The guy was very cheery and clearly knew how to cook as we were to eat eel for the first time and I would have happily stayed all night to eat more. The eel was hamo conga eel, known for being fluffy when cooked and doesn’t lose the taste when it is deep fried. This particular eel is quite popular in Kyoto and I can see why. The food was delicious and definitely became one of the best dishes on the food tour for me.
While walking around from place to place Moe pointed out different places, foods and locations to tell us more about Japan and Kyoto specifically. There were many places in Nishiki market Moe recommended for spices and cooking ingredients. She also told us that going to the market in the morning you would see many businesses buying stock and in the evening it could be people buying for dinner that evening.
The Standing Bar
Next on the food tour Kyoto we had a short walk out of the market into the more residential areas of Kyoto. We headed for a standing bar, something that is popular and not uncommon for Japanese to go after to work, have a few drinks and bar snacks before going home.
At the bar we had the option to have an alcoholic beverage, I chose the sweet sake and Cora chose the whiskey with soda known as a highball. I was most impressed with how the sake is presented and poured. As it is known that the Japanese give you a glass in a tray so they can over pour the drink as this shows good service.
Here we had multiple dishes to try starting with pickled vegetables, vegetables are common and well utilised in Kyoto. As the water is pure in Kyoto they use this to preserve their vegetables and foods. The next dish to the table was a tuna in miso paste, this was definitely one of Cora’s favourites of the night.
One of the more unexpected dishes for me was the pickled ginger tempura, it was a slice of pickled ginger deep fried. Though the ginger isn’t spicy it definitely has a strong kick and was quite hard to bite off. Next, on the food tour Kyoto was another one I really quite enjoyed which was Monkfish liver with radish on top. It was served up in a small bowl with garnish and looked like a pink version of the tuna. It was very nice and would like to have it again, Moe told us that it was often a dish people either loved or hated.
Our next dish in the standing bar was Fu (pronounced uh) this is a wheat gluten. Basically you have eaten a square of gluten, there were two forms. The white form was made with white miso paste and the green was made with meat flavouring. Another dish we tried was a simple omelette served with codro sauce on the top, the sauce is made from fish eggs. These were one of the least rated dishes on our tour as the texture was a little strange.
The last dish on our food tour Kyoto at the standing bar was Chinese cabbage and pork, this was served with bonito flakes. Cora took the first bite and unfortunately wasn’t a good look, she didn’t like it but the other guests on the tour did.
Once we had finished at the standing bar we moved onto our next stop, this was a short walk away to a bbq place. This was to try our first Wagyu beef, this can also be known in Japan as Kobe beef or Kyoto beef. The beef was smokey and delicious and was extremely tasty. We were given a skewer each and we all could have easily eaten more. The bar itself was open until 5am, I was very tempted to go back for more later on!
While walking to our next stop Moe was kind enough to answer some of my queries and questions about Japanese culture, dress sense and schooling. She told us about what is was like for her growing up and what school was like. I learnt a lot about Japan that I couldn’t otherwise find online or from a book.
Moving onto our last stop where we were going to sit down and have a drink and more tasty food. Here we were brought to Pontocho street to find a restaurant whose name translates to ‘hidden place’. Moe took us up to the restaurant and we were seated in a ground level booth. We took our shoes off and they were stored in a cupboard next to the table.
While at ‘hidden place’ we had over 6 dishes including dessert. We were offered another drink and I choose to try the plum wine this time. I really enjoyed the plum wine as it was much easier to drink with food. Our first dish was a highly decorative appetiser of boiled vegetables and a little dish of beef tongue in miso sauce. The tray was very pretty and tasted lovely, the beef was nice but would have liked to try it warm.
Next was a trio of bowls on a wooden board, these had 3 different dishes in for us to try. One was a picked onion is fish broth, the middle was pumpkin tempura and the last was smokey grilled peppers. The onion is fish broth was an acquired taste and I wouldn’t rush to have it again. Everyone voted the pumpkin tempura as the favourite, as pumpkin is seasonal this dish may change depending on the time of year you visit. The last dish was good, not spicy at all which was a relief!
Another dish was fried pork served with boiled vegetables and dipping sauce. The pork was beautifully cooked as it was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It was full of flavour and was easily one of the best dishes on the table.
The next dish on the food tour Kyoto was something very different, though very safe at the same time. It was a fried rice served with baby sardines and topped with bonito flakes. Cora couldn’t get over the baby sardines but I ate my whole bowl. Once you forget about the baby sardines the rice dish was beautiful and light.
The last dish before dessert was described as a gratin-like dish. The dish was actually made up of mushrooms, fu and cheese made with miso paste. The dish was quite heavy as the cheese was very thick and stringy.
The last dish on our food tour Kyoto was a pear ice cream. This may also change in the tour depending on the fruits available. The ice cream was delicious and just what we needed to finish off the variety of food we had eaten.
Moe had told us that on the food tour Kyoto they try to take you to places that you wouldn’t be able to get to on your own. So the places we went to didn’t speak much English and the menu was all in Japanese. This was so that you could experience something you couldn’t otherwise find on your own.
I couldn’t recommend this food tour Kyoto as it was very informative, interesting and of course, the food was impeccable. I would definitely say if you were looking for other traditional foods to try then this is a great way to introduce you. Moe was more than happy to write down and spell places and foods for me and get me any business cards or information I needed. The tour was well laid out and was great as you get to see the best spots. It was also great as you got to try many dishes in one place. I would book onto a tour with Ninja Food Tours in the future to taste more of what Japan has to offer.