Monday, 10 August 2009

Kyoto: my ryokan and the food

My ryokan couldn't have been more perfect. I wanted to stay in a traditional Japanese-style hotel that served Japanese food and I got more than what I wanted - a fantastic room, very friendly staff, delicious food and located in the Gion district, right in the centre of Kyoto. Perfect! I couldn't recommend 'Kamogawa-kan Inn' more if you ever need a place to stay in Kyoto.

My room was surprisingly big and decked out in traditional Japanese tatami and furniture, with paper sliding windows.

I had just enough time to settle in before the two, old Japanese ladies who worked in the ryokan started to bring my kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) dinner. They were so kind and friendly and did absolutely everything for me!

The plates of food just kept on coming - this is what my table ended up looking like:

Every dish came with its own dipping sauce and I got a big tub of rice on the side too. It was all presented beautifully, but my favourite had to be the snow-igloo that my sashimi came in.

The food was all so delicious, so it's a bit of a shame that I still have no idea what some of it was! I asked, but didn't understand the Japanese response... The meal as a whole is very different to meals in the UK - there is a very odd mix of savoury and sweet flavours on the same plate and often in the same item. For example, small, crispy, sugared fish: salty on the inside, syrupy on the outside. The first one was a bit of a surprise, the second was quite enjoyable, but buy the third one, I had eaten enough!

The Japanese women then insisted that I got changed into the yukata that came with the room, so I obliged and got them to help me tie it. I am going to have to get myself one as they're really good.

Breakfast the next morning was another multi-course extravaganza. Again, no idea what half of it was - prizes to whoever knows what the contents of the little dishes were!

After breakfast, I was asked whether I wanted a kaiseki dinner again or shabu shabu (kind of like a meat fondue). I couldn't make my mind up so they gave me kaiseki with my own little mini shabu shabu as one of the courses! I had clearly been given the gaijin-friendly kaiseki the first night, but, impressed that I had eaten all of that, they gave me the real deal on Saturday:

One of the dishes was a speciality from the Osaka region (I think that's what she said...) and consisted solely of two fish heads. Now, whenever I eat whole fish at home, I usually stop before I get to the face. There turned out to be a surprising amount of flesh in there actually, although I couldn't face eating the eyes. The sashimi dish included sea urchin this time - I've already tried this on sushi I didn't really fancy eating it again, but did out of politeness... You know the smell of the sea lion enclosure at the zoo? That's exactly what uni tastes like.

I managed enough Japanese to have wee conversations with the two ladies and they thought I was hilarious as a result of my efforts. I must have been semi-articulate as they empathised with me when I explained how hot I was finding the weather in Kyoto compared to at home. They were so nice and took this into account when preparing my breakfast for Sunday morning; giving me dishes that were designed to cool me down, like iced tofu.

The meals were just incredicble - I want to go back just to eat some more!

For lunch, I just got food while I was out and about. Kyoto happens to have a chain of coffee houses with a very appropriate name:

I found one of my new favourite places too: Mister Donut. This is pretty much the Japanese equivalent of Krispy Kreme and every donut is only 100yen (60p!).

So on Sunday, I decided to have a variety of doughnuts for my lunch. Why? Because I'm a grown-up and can eat doughnuts for my lunch if I want to :)

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