18 Must-Try Local Delicacies in Kyoto

In this article, I’ll introduce you to some must-try local delicacies in Kyoto!
From Kyoto’s traditional obanzai dishes, matcha treats, and warabimochi to yuba dishes perfect for lunch or dinner, as well as delightful souvenirs, be sure to check out the local flavors you shouldn’t miss when dining in Kyoto!

Obanzai

“Obanzai” refers to the everyday home-cooked side dishes in Kyoto. It’s a simple and wholesome cuisine featuring Kyoto vegetables, dried ingredients, and soy-based products. Known for its minimal and health-conscious approach, obanzai emphasizes simple seasoning with dashi, and common dishes include salads and simmered items.

You can find many places in Kyoto offering obanzai, ranging from buffet-style restaurants to cafes and izakayas. The charm of obanzai lies in the opportunity to savor delicious Kyoto vegetables like Manganji peppers, Jumbo Daikon from Shojoin, and Kamo eggplants, as well as unique Kyoto ingredients such as tofu and ganmodoki (fried tofu fritters).

Matcha


Sweets featuring matcha from Uji, a specialty of Kyoto, are a must-try when visiting the city. You can enjoy creatively crafted matcha desserts at cafes and traditional Japanese sweet shops.

Popular places like Ito Kyuemon Uji Honten in Uji and Tsujiri in Kawaramachi offer authentic matcha sweets. Uji, where Ito Kyuemon Uji Honten is located, is renowned as the home of matcha, and you’ll be greeted by the delightful aroma of tea when you visit these establishments.

Warabimochi

Warabimochi is made by heating a mixture of warabi powder, obtained from the underground stems of the bracken plant, with water and sugar. Extracting warabi powder is a labor-intensive process, and authentic warabimochi tends to be on the higher-priced side. It’s worth noting that lower-cost options found in supermarkets often use byproducts or inexpensive starch.

Due in part to the fact that Nara Prefecture is a prominent producer of warabi powder, warabimochi is widely enjoyed in the Kansai region, especially in Kyoto. Many shops offer this treat, with its refreshing appearance making it a representative summer delicacy.

In Kyoto city, popular spots for delicious warabimochi include Gion Tokuya and KISSHOKARYO Gion Honten.

Yudofu

When you visit Kyoto, one absolute must-try dish is Yudofu, a specialty that originated from the Zen Buddhist cuisine. This delicious tofu hot pot is said to have its roots in Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto.

Kyoto is renowned for its pristine and smooth water, making it perfect for tofu production. Tofu made with Kyoto’s high-quality water is truly exquisite! You’ll find excellent establishments like “Nanzenji Junsei,” “Okutan,” and “Nanzenji Sanjo Kikusui” around the Nanzenji area.

Of course, beyond Nanzenji, there are plenty of great places throughout Kyoto city to savor a steaming bowl of flavorful Yudofu. Be sure to try this piping hot tofu dish, rich in the savory goodness of soybeans.

Yuba

Experience the unique texture and flavor of Yuba, a thin, film-like food formed during the heating of soy milk. Believed to have originated from China, Yuba has been a beloved part of Japanese Shojin cuisine for a long time.

There are both dried and fresh Yuba available, and recently, there’s a growing popularity of restaurants where customers can create and enjoy their own Yuba. As the first skim is considered the finest, it could be interesting to compare and taste at shops that offer a hands-on Yuba-making experience.

Thanks to its rich, protein-packed taste, Yuba is versatile and can be used in various dishes like simmered or fried dishes. Don’t miss the chance to savor Yuba itself, perhaps in a delightful sashimi-style presentation!

Ginshari (Shiny Rice and Crispy Bits)

Not widely known, but Kyoto boasts some delicious rice. There’s even an event called the “Kyoto Premium Rice Contest” organized by Kyoto Prefecture.

While the tempting Japanese cuisine and obanzai (Kyoto-style home-cooked dishes) often steal the spotlight in Kyoto, there are also places where rice takes center stage.

One such place is “Kyoto no Kome Ryotei Hachidaime Gihey,” which has a presence in Ginza as well. Known for its unique “Ginshari” (silver rice), it’s consistently popular, with people lining up regularly to savor this one-of-a-kind rice dish.

Kyoto Duck

Indulge in the exquisite contrast of deep red meat and subtly pink-tinged flavorful fat found in Kyoto’s duck dishes. Duck meat, often considered a less common choice, is widely appreciated in Kyoto, where there’s a culture of consuming more duck compared to other prefectures. The “Kyoto Kamo” brand, raised through rigorous quality control by agricultural companies, ensures high-quality duck meat that is well-loved.

Moreover, Kyoto hosts numerous restaurants serving delicious duck dishes. At places like “Masutomi,” where you can enjoy duck seiro and duck hot pot, or “Handmade Soba Kanei,” offering duck nanba and duck zaru soba, you can easily savor the delightful flavors of duck meat.

Saba-zushi


One of the beloved sushi choices in Kyoto is “Saba-zushi,” where thickly salted and vinegared mackerel is placed on top of vinegared rice in a cylindrical shape.

Saba-zushi traces its roots back to the ancient “Nare-zushi,” a preserved food. The version we know today evolved during the Edo period. Historically, Kyoto received salted mackerel from Wakasa Bay through the “Saba Kaido” (Mackerel Highway). This long-distance transportation of seafood made it a precious delicacy for the people of Kyoto.

Saba-zushi, made with this mackerel, became a special treat for festive occasions. Even now, it’s cherished as a dish for special occasions, alongside other sushi varieties like barazushi and hakozushi.

Matcha Soba

One of Kyoto’s renowned specialties is Uji Matcha, a type of powdered green tea. Among the must-try dishes when visiting Kyoto is soba noodles made with Uji Matcha, which boasts a top-notch share in the country.

Matcha soba is crafted by blending wheat flour and Uji Matcha into the soba flour. Its beautiful green color and delightful fragrance make it a culinary delight. Whether at a soba noodle shop or a dessert spot offering matcha sweets, you’ll likely find matcha soba on the menu.

Similar to regular soba noodles, matcha soba comes in various varieties. During the summer, you might enjoy “zaru soba,” while in colder seasons, “nishi soba,” a warm matcha soba, comes highly recommended!

Kyoto Ramen

Kyoto’s ramen is known for its rich and hearty style, often referred to as “Kyoto Ramen.” There are famous local establishments like “Honke Daiichiasahi,” “Tenka Ippin,” and “Ramen Kairikiya,” which originated in Kyoto and have expanded their presence nationwide.

In the vicinity of Ichijoji, heading north from the city center, you’ll find an area known as Ramen Street. Here, a variety of ramen shops, from rich and hearty to light and refreshing, compete with each other, creating a ramen battleground. One popular spot is “Chukasoba Takayasu,” renowned for its creamy chicken broth. It’s a must-try in this vibrant ramen scene!

Dango

Dango, a beloved treat in Japan, is known for its round shape and chewy texture. Typically made by mixing grains like shiratamako or joshinko with water, it has been enjoyed by the Japanese for a long time. The tradition of offering dango at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto during ceremonies eventually spread to the general public.

One of the charms of dango lies in its diverse flavors. From mitarashi dango glazed with sweet and savory sauce to dango topped with sweet red bean paste, and soy-flavored dango with a delightful hint of sweetness – there’s a wide range to savor. In Kyoto’s tourist spots, you’ll find many shops offering dango for takeaway. So, if you’re feeling tired from exploring, grab some dango to recharge your energy.

Kyoto Udon

Kyoto is renowned for its delicious udon noodles. The distinctive feature of Kyoto udon is its clear, fox-colored broth, richly flavored with bonito and kelp dashi.

While typical kitsune udon or kitsune soba often have sweetly seasoned fried tofu, Kyoto’s kitsune udon and soba take a different approach—they are not sweet. Moreover, they feature finely chopped fried tofu as a topping.

In Kyoto’s culinary scene, many dishes are downsized for the convenience of geishas, so it’s possible that the fried tofu is tailored to the petite size of a geisha’s mouth.

Bread

While Kyoto is often associated with traditional Japanese culture, surprisingly, it ranks high nationwide in bread consumption. Within Kyoto city, you’ll find numerous delightful bakeries.

One such establishment is “Shinshindo,” an age-old bakery in Kyoto. Its founder was the first Japanese person to study bread-making in Paris, paving the way for a rich bread-making tradition in Kyoto. From these time-honored bakeries to newer establishments, delicious bread is baked fresh every day.

Moreover, the popular “Shitsuya” bakery, commonly found in Kyoto’s train stations and throughout the city, is a favorite among locals. Definitely try the “Karne,” a sandwich with onion slices and ham sandwiched between a chewy and airy German-style French bread.

Pickles

Pickles have been made as a preserved food since ancient times, with references to pickling found in documents from the Nara period. While pickles are a common part of today’s diet, during the Heian period, they were considered a luxury item accessible only to a few privileged nobles.

In Kyoto, three major pickles stand out: suguki (turnips), senmaizuke (thinly sliced pickled radish), and shibazuke (bright purple pickles). There are many renowned pickle shops, such as “Nishiri,” “Mori,” and “Daiyasu.”

Suguki, written as “vinegar stems,” comes from the Brassicaceae family. It involves consuming both the white root vegetable part, similar to turnips, and the leaves. Senmaizuke consists of thinly sliced pickled Saint-Guardian radishes. The vibrant reddish-purple shibazuke incorporates ingredients like cucumbers, eggplants, and myoga (Japanese ginger).

Black Seven Spice

Japan’s unique spice, Shichimi Togarashi, was born during the Edo period. It originated in the Yagenbori district of Nihonbashi, known as the “Doctor’s Town,” where a blend of traditional Chinese medicine and medicinal herbs was first sold. The reason it’s still called a “condiment” may be rooted in the story of its creation.

Kyoto also boasts famous shops offering Shichimi Togarashi, but “Kuro Shichimi” from “Hara Ryokaku” holds a special place as a Kyoto condiment. Beyond its use in cooking, it’s not uncommon for this spice to be employed in scenting traditional Japanese sweets.

Mizutaki

In Kyoto, there are many famous dishes, but if you’re in the mood for something a bit fancy, I recommend trying “mizutaki”! One standout place, especially if you’re around Gion Shijo, is Toriyasa, a renowned restaurant known for being frequented by the historical figure Sakamoto Ryoma.

Established in 1788, Toriyasa has maintained its authentic flavors throughout the years, earning a reputation as one of Kyoto’s top-notch mizutaki spots. It’s a classic and beloved establishment, known for delivering a taste that has remained unchanged since its founding.

Kinugasa-don

Have you heard of “Kinugasa-don”? It’s considered one of Kyoto’s soul foods and is a familiar local delicacy for residents of Kyoto Prefecture.

Kinugasa-don is a simple dish that involves combining Kyoto-style tempura and Kujo green onions, all bound together with beaten eggs. Unlike meat-focused dishes like oyakodon (chicken and egg bowl) or katsudon (pork cutlet bowl), Kinugasa-don has a unique appeal with the perfect addition of Japanese sansho pepper! It continues to be cherished as a Kyoto-exclusive gourmet experience that captures the essence of traditional Japanese flavors.

Karashisoba

Featured on popular television shows and gaining nationwide recognition, “karashisoba” has become a sensation. Karashisoba is a highly addictive noodle dish known for its sharp and spicy kick from the mustard flavor.

In Kyoto, numerous establishments serve up karashisoba, and one distinctive feature is that there aren’t specialized shops dedicated solely to this dish. This highlights how karashisoba has become an integral part of everyday life for Kyoto locals.

Conclusion

In the historic city of Kyoto, there are a plethora of specialty foods waiting to be explored. From traditional kaiseki cuisine to affordable eats and delightful sweets, the culinary scene here offers a diverse range of options. Be sure to indulge in the gourmet delights when you visit Kyoto!

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