Monday, December 8, 2008

On the Road to Gion

Knowing that we were unable to check into our guesthouse in Osaka until 4pm, we decided to spend the day in Kyoto seeing sights of the Nishikikoji Food Market, Takasegawa shopping arcade, the ancient area of Gion and the famous wooden Kiyomizu Temple. We had attempted to find the Nishikikoji Food Market the night before, but was told by a local that it was only open during the day. The food market was an amazing arcade of fresh everything Japanese.
Still starving from our dinner the night before the food market was exactly what we needed – little snacks everywhere! We quickly spotted a vendor selling sashimi on a stick. Just a few steps away was another vendor selling fried items and we ordered what we thought was a bacon-wrapped puffed biscuit. But we soon discovered the biscuit was made entirely of white fish – delicious.
The food market had a massive variety of foods vendors selling all kinds of Japanese goods, with samples to match. We knew we had hit a traditional Japanese market when we spotted a vendor selling nukazuke, a traditional pickling style. After snacking our way down the food market we turned our attention to the Takasegawa shopping arcade. One interesting aspect of the covered shopping arcade was the temples dotted throughout the market and the occasional cemetery, sitting solemnly next to all the mass consumption going on. After wandering the maze-like shopping arcade we headed out and over the river into the Gion district in hopes of finding Geishas wandering the traditional district. The Gion district’s narrow streets and traditional buildings snaking up the hills towards temples brought us back to the days of the Imperial city, especially once we spotted women walking around the area in traditional geisha gowns. We soon found ourselves on the edge of Gion and starving again. This time we were craving noodles and kept our eyes out for the plastic foods showing soups and broths. After wandering for what seemed like forever, we noticed alittle corner shop on the edge of one of Kyoto largest temples and crossed the street to take a look at the menu. There was no English descriptions, just pictures of delicious looking broth soups so we decided to give it a try.The restaurant inside was tiny with only 4 wooded tables and luckily a group of men were leaving and we were soon seated at their now empty table.(We lucked out and made it just in time for tail end of the lunch specials, which included a rice dish, a soup and a side. We pointed to two of the three specials listed and kept our fingers crossed for something delicious. Mike ordered a soup with a rice item, which turned out to be the best marinated tofu dish we have EVER had. The cubed tofu was tossed in a tangy, somewhat spicy sauce that we will give our right arm for the recipe! We think the sauce may consist of some of the fermented chili paste sitting on the table. Seriously, if anyone knows what this is please contact us ASAP! The soup was made up of a duck broth that was rich, but not salty. Underneath the large slices of fatty, but tender duck meat was wheat noodles and simply garnished with green onions and bamboo shoots. The soup was similar to Vietnamese My Vit. We devoured our soup quickly. Our other item, which came with the lunch special, was chicken kara age. The coating was light and the dark meat chicken was tender and flavorful. Another kara age score! This lunch was so memorable, but what impressed also was the beautiful little bathroom and the tiny efficient kitchen at the front of the restaurant. Another interesting element of the restaurant was the small televisions mounted up high above the tables that played a loop of the restaurant advertisement – very interesting. We can’t remember the name, but the corner next to the large temple on the other side of Gion will forever be in our memories for the next time we visit. Really, it was that good! Since we had little time in Kyoto to see the numerous temples in the city we decided to see one of the more famous temples – Kiyomizu Temple, a wooden temple set in the foothills of the city. As we made our way to the temple we passed a large wooden pagoda and decided to make our way up the windy small street leading to the impressive all wood pagoda.
It was there we spotted several Geishas out sightseeing. 
The Geishas were very beautiful and their traditional kimonos were absolutely gorgeous. There were many other women dressed in traditional kimonos, but we’re not sure if you would consider them Geishas. They were however more open to having their pictures taken, unlike the traditional Geishas. The Kiyomizu Temple’s grounds were set up against the foothills and overlooked the city of Kyoto. We made our way up to the temple passing through the courtyards and the numerous smaller temples and enjoyed the view. The massive wooden temple set into the hills surrounded by maples in the height of them turning their brilliant autumn color was worth the trek up the hill and through the tiny streets packed with people.When we initially were deciding between how many days to spend in Kyoto and Osaka we opted to stay in Kyoto only two days so we could spend more time in Osaka, but after our short time in Kyoto we realized we easily could have spent a week there. The old capital of Japan is beautiful, left untouched by the bombings of WWII, giving us a sense of the serene and rich history of Japan, very different to Tokyo, but just as intoxicating.


Unknown said...

Drool-O-Rama desu!!! Your food travels look dee-lish! Domo arigato for sharing. Re. the marinated tofu, the writing on the side of that vessel is hiragana for "karashi miso" which is a mustard miso. The paste inside looks more like chili peppers as opposed to mustard. Either way, it must taste "oishii(delicious)!"

Buddha Bellies said...

Thanks for the information Cesario! Thanks for tuning in!