Kyoto is one of Japan's most quaint and charming cities and it shows in the region's traditional food. Yuba (tofu skin) and matcha tea, for example, are a couple of the more prominent Japanese delicacies Kyoto is known for.
To many visitors from overseas, this is the best place to immerse themselves in Japanese culture and the city is thus one of the most visited spots on the island nation. And you'll definitely need food fuel to fully enjoy the Japanese experience, right?
So let's take a look at where you can find great-tasting cuisine in Kyoto, grouped according to the five main localities of Kyoto Station, Kiyomizudera, Gion, Karasuma/Kawaramachi, and Arashiyama. Don't forget to check out our guide to the latest and tastiest shops in Kyoto newly opened during 2022 as well. May your cravings guide you on your next Kyoto trip!
Main image: KLOOK
Kyoto food checklist
Kyoto cuisine uses plenty of old Japanese ingredients, such as tofu, matcha, bracken starch, and kudzu. It also has plenty of preserved fish, such as dried herrings and salt-pickled mackerel, a fitting trait for a land-locked city.
As for sushi, there are mackerel and pickled sushi, enjoyable for their unusual appearances. Another classic dining style is kaiseki, which includes various foods that change with the season and truly has an air of Japanese tradition. The cuisine also makes use of kombu and dashi.
Though it costs more and takes longer than other foods, Kyoto cuisine is definitely worth experiencing. There are also tasty Japanese desserts out there, such as bracken starch mochi, kudzu noodles, and matcha parfaits.
1. Kyoto Yudofu: Warm and healthy
Tofu is made from soy beans and water. Kyoto, with its high-quality groundwater, has been a popular site of tofu-making for over 150 years. That being the case, Yudofu, tofu warmed in kombu broth and eaten with soy sauce, is one of Kyoto's representational dishes. It's a classic dish in temples, where monks eat vegetables instead of meat, so there are plenty of yudofu restaurants around them.
Most establishments have sesame yudofu and tempura in a set, available for 3,000 to 4,000 yen. Many are also based in mansions with beautiful gardens, allowing you to truly experience Kyoto while you eat.
2. Kyoto Kaiseki: Beautiful and seasonally tasty
There's one style of cuisine everyone knows Kyoto for: Kaiseki. Sashimi, grilled, fried, and simmered foods, soup, rice, and dessert all come with these course meals, each brought out individually. They use seasonal ingredients and pay special care to how the food is presented, including vessels used. They say that kaiseki started out as light meals eaten before sipping matcha during tea ceremonies. Nowadays, the number of dishes has increased, and more care has been given to their appearance.
Many restaurants charge at least 10,000 yen for a course at night, but lunch courses reach around a more accessible 3,000 to 5,000 yen. Most establishments require reservations, so inquire at your hotel or information desk. Lunch takes about an hour and a half, while dinner takes about two hours. If you'd like to gracefully experience Japanese cuisine, this will be a great memory of your trip.
3. Kyoto Nishin Soba: Noodles with a big, sweet herring
Nishin soba consists of sweetly boiled herring atop warm soba noodles. This particular dish became popular in Kyoto because herring preserves very well, and in previous ages, Kyoto was too far inland for fresh fish to be delivered there safely.
That said, Nishin soba has been eaten in Kyoto for over 150 years and is one of the city's signature dishes. When eating this dish, most are surprised at the sheer size of the herring. The meat is soft, and its sweet flavor blends in with the broth, creating one exquisite dish.
4. Kyoto Mackerel sushi: Thick mackerel and vinegar-seasoned rice
Much like Nishin soba, salted mackerel was a valuable preserved food in Kyoto. From it came the soon-to-be-popular mackerel sushi. With no cooling technology or transportation infrastructure, the mackerel of the past was rolled in from Fukui on carriages. The road it took is still called Saba Kaido, Mackerel Road. Chefs would pickle the mackerel in vinegar and combine it with vinegar-seasoned rice to make mackerel sushi.
The thick mackerel meat mixes well with the acidic taste of the vinegar rice, giving it a unique taste. Putting some kombu on top of it gives it an even deeper flavor.
5. Kyoto Tsukemono Sushi: Easy access to traditional pickled foods
Japan has long eaten “tsukemono,” vegetables pickled with salt, vinegar, and sometimes sugar. Kyoto is home to a substantial amount of them, but since they need to be chilled, it isn't easy to buy them on the road. That's where tsukemono sushi comes in.
With pickled vegetables replacing the fish, this sushi has been very popular lately. Plenty of veteran pickling establishments provide the sushi, so the flavor is excellent. They also boast a variety of colorful appearances, making them perfect for social media.
6. Kyoto Warabi Mochi: Bracken starch cakes with a unique texture and flavor
Warabi mochi is the chewy, addictive treat. Though cheap versions tapioka or potatoes in place of the warabi, Kyoto uses the real thing: bracken starch flour. Bracken flower gives it a noticeably soft texture and unique flavor, and it is topped with with kinako or brown sugar syrup. Some contain red bean paste inside.
When summer comes around, warabi mochi goes on sale in convenience stores and supermarkets, but the ones made by experts in Kyoto are completely different. If you want to taste the real thing, try them in Kyoto!
7. Kyoto Kudzu Noodles: Keep you refreshed throughout summer
The sweet kuzukiri is also popular in Kyoto. Kuzukiri is made from powder taken from kudzu root, dissolved in water and put into a mold, then heated into a solid and cut finely like noodles. It's generally eaten with brown sugar syrup on it.
The transparent “noodles” give it a refreshing image for summer, but you can have them in Kyoto all year long. They have a unique, refreshing way of passing through the mouth and the throat, so you'll definitely want to check them out.
8. Kyoto Matcha sweets with a wonderful bitterness
If there's one type of sweet that feels Japanese, it's those that use matcha. While there are plenty in existence, of particular note is the increasingly popular matcha parfait. Kyoto's Uji City is well known for its tea production, which provides Kyoto with plenty of high-quality matcha.
The parfaits come with various toppings with its ice cream, too, such as jelly, cream, castella, bavarois, and more. They're definitely worth a try, and a sweet you can't miss if you're visiting Kyoto.
9. Miso Glazed Kamonasu Eggplant
What exactly is "kyoyasai", a term that often appears on the signboards of restaurants big and small in Kyoto? Kyoyasai, which literally means "Kyoto vegetables", refers to produce that are recognized by Kyoto's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to have been cultivated and harvested in Kyoto itself.
There's a bit of history behind this: In ancient times, the consumption of animal meat was prohibited in Kyoto and seafood was scarce as most of the prefecture was located inland.
As a result, vegetables became an important source of food for Kyoto residents and the custom continues to this day. What's more, the vegetables grown here are fresh and nutritious due to an ideal combination of terrain, climate, and clean water sources.
Some famous examples of Kyoyasai would be Kamonasu eggplants, Mibuna greens, Kujo green onions, and Manganji peppers. Since these culinary delights can only be found in Kyoto, definitely make plans to find and enjoy a dish or two during your tour around this historic city!
10. Ramen, Udon, and Other Noodle Cuisine
Kyoto is a battlefield of top-class noodle cuisine because of the excellent quality of the water here, which naturally results in the production of excellent noodles. These noodles are then used in tasty clear broth ramen like duck and chicken paitan (white soup) or rich and fragrant ones like tonkotsu (pork broth).
Familiar international brands such as Ichiran and Ippudo can also be easily found along the streets of Kyoto. If ramen's not your thing, there's always udon! Yamamoto Menzo and Hinode Udon are a couple of more well-known restaurants you can consider trying when visiting the city.
Just trying to cover the noodle shops here alone is more than enough to keep your tongue and tummy occupied for a few good days.
Of course, noodles aren't everything Kyoto has to offer in terms of local specialties, but the best way to experience the city's delicacies is still to make a trip down yourself.
In fact, here are a few must-try restaurants sorted by vicinity for easier planning, including popular areas like Kyoto Station, Kiyomizudera, Gion's Hanamikoji Street, and of course, tourist favorite Arashiyama. Let's see how we can "eat" our way through this vibrant and charming city!
Guide to must-try Kyoto foods by area
1. Kyoto Station area
The first stop most visitors make on their Kyoto trip is likely Kyoto Station. This major transport hub is a massive interchange served by Shinkansen bullet trains, JR lines, Kintetsu lines, Kyoto Municipal Subway, and multiple bus services that travel to and fro the city from various places of interest.
Needless to mention, access to other major cities like Osaka and Nara from this station is very convenient as well. There are so many restaurants in and around Kyoto Station that you never have to worry about running out of places to forage for tasty tidbits.
The station is also directly connected to Isetan, a popular department store. For meals, there are options like tonkatsu (pork cutlet rice), sukiyaki (hotpot), ramen, sushi, and Osaka okonomiyaki (pan-fried batter).
For dessert, definitely try any one of the matcha desserts or crepes available in one of the cafes here during your shopping breaks.
One plus point of the shops located here is that some of them open early and close late, all the way until after 10 p.m., making it especially easy to work an early morning or late-night snack into your itinerary without too much hassle.
・Yakiniku (Grilled Meat)
- JR Kyoto Isetan: Jojoen (yakiniku), Kyotofu Fujino (tofu cuisine), Kyoto Wakudan (Kyoto cuisine), Tsukiji Sushisay (sushi), Wako (tonkatsu), Tsujiro Tea House, MALEBRANCHE, Nakamura Tokichi Main Store
- The Cube: Nadai (tonkatsu), Inosuke (beef tongue), Kyo Koto Koto (Kyoto cuisine), Saryo FUKUCHA
- ・ASTY Kyoto Kyoto Ometenashi Street: Gion Tsujiri, Hoshino Coffee, Sushi no Musashi (sushi), Hararyokaku (Japanese cuisine)
- Kyoto Ramen Street: Higashi-ikebukuro Taishoken, Hakata Ikkosha Ramen, Ramen Todai, Ramen Masutani
- Kyoto Granvia Hotel: Kyorinsen (tempura), Gozanbo (teppanyaki - iron griddle cooked meat), Minokichi Takeshigero (Kyoto kaiseki - multi-course meal)
- Kyoto Station Underground Street Porta: Dashichazuke En (ochazuke - tea on rice), KYK (tonkatsu), Hokkyokusei (omelet rice), Dotonbori Kamukura (ramen), Ippudo, Hoshino Coffee, Yojiya Cafe, kushikatsu, Osaka okonomiyaki
- Kyoto Station Underground Street Porta: About 110 shops to browse, including shops selling snacks, yatsuhashi (hard cracker), tea leaves, pickled foods, and other Kyoto specialties.
- Station Souvenir Street: Just outside the west exit of Kyoto Station on the JR Lines, along the north-south lane of the station building's second floor is a row of shops selling popular souvenirs like matcha dessert.
- Souvenir Street Kyokomachi: Located outside the central exit of the JR lines on the first floor of the station, the area is split into northern and southern wings which are populated by established souvenir shops and limited time pop-up stores for quick and easy shopping.
- Kyoto Tower: Only a 2-minute walk from the station and comes with hotels, restaurants, bathing facilities, an observation deck, and plenty of souvenir stores in its vicinity. This is the tallest building in Kyoto and one of the most popular attractions of the city.
The latest and tastiest around Kyoto Station
・BAIKAL / Kyoto Station Underground Street Porta West Zone
The west zone of Kyoto Station Underground Street Porta opened in August 26, 2022 with 12 new shops, and BAIKAL is one of them. This is a new branch of an established French confectionery shop that made a name for itself in 1955 in Shimogamo, Kyoto. Signature products of this store include adorable cream puffs made with Kogyoku apples and the returning yogurt cheese tarts only sold here. Great snacks to nibble on when you're feeling peckish for sure!
2. Gion / Hanamikoji
Gion is home to many well-known Kyoto attractions, including Yasaka Shrine, Maruyama Park, Yasui Konpiragu, and Kamo River. As a former amusement district where geisha and maiko (traditional female entertainers) entertained guests with food and performances, it's not surprising to see a comparatively higher number of premium traditional Japanese restaurants here offering multi-course meals like kappo (courses prepared in an open kitchen) and kaiseki (courses prepared in a private kitchen), many of which may boast a Michelin star or two as well. Meals from these restaurants are presented like art pieces and continue to attract plenty of patrons despite costing a pretty penny. The budget-conscious will still be able to enjoy delicious food and drinks in eateries and cafes in or around Hanamikoji. A regular fare of Kyoto's famous tempura, udon, or matcha dessert can be equally satisfying!
・Traditional Cuisine / Kappo
・Yakiniku / Steak
- Hanamikoji: The most famous street of Gion featuring olden folk homes that have been refurbished into cafes, snack shops, Japanese cuisine eateries, and high-end restaurants. The roads have been paved with wooden planks and traditional Kyoto townhouses line the street on both sides. Dim yellow lamps light up the area at night, adding to its elegantly mysterious atmosphere which is better experienced than explained. You'll also find a number of matcha specialty stores, tea ceremony workshops, and shops selling Japanese-style merchandise here. It's a great place to immerse yourself in Kyoto's unique vibes for sure!
- Yasaka Shrine: The main shrine of all Yasaka Shrines in Japan with over a thousand years of history. One of Kyoto's largest annual festivals, the Gion Festival is organized by this shrine.
- Maruyama Park: A massive garden complex located next to Yasaka Shrine, this park is most well-known for the large weeping sakura tree on its premises. Many visitors come to the park to see its beautiful blooms during the lively season of spring and the park is one of the most popular cherry blossom spots in Kyoto during this time.
- Yasui Konpiragu: A shrine that has made its name for itself as a bringer of good fortune and successful romantic endeavors. The large power stone monument it houses is said to have the ability to break off bad relationships or initiate good ones and passing through the hole in it is said to invoke divine protection. The monument itself is quite a sight to behold and attracts many who may simply wish to see it in its full glory.
- Kennin-ji: This old temple with more than 800 years of history contains a folding screen replica of Fujin and Raijin, the gods of wind and lightning respectively, painted by an ancient master of a traditional Japanese painting style. Also not to be missed are the pair of painted dragons looming over visitors on the building ceiling and its beautifully maintained zen garden.
3. Shijo / Karasuma / Kawaramachi
Specifically referring to the vicinity of Karasuma Station and Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Railway and Shijo Station on the Kyoto Municipal Subway, this highly accessible area is served by multiple railway lines and public buses. As one of the hottest downtown districts of Kyoto, visitors have their pick of hotels, department stores, restaurants, and other shops of interest here. The highly competitive nature of the shops here means the food being served is always top-notch as well. Some big-name eateries offering fantastic sit-down meals are Men-ya Inoichi, Ichiran Ramen, Sushizanmai, and Nadai Katsukura. For finger food you can buy as takeaways, there are also popular dessert shops like Qu'il Fait Bon and BAKE CHEESE TART. Nishiki Market and all its fabulous food and food-related wares is also located here. Foodies with a keen sense of smell and adventure will love the thrills and pleasant surprises this area has to offer.
・Yakiniku / Steak
・Kyoto / Kaiseki Cuisine
・Crab / Seafood
- Nishiki Market: A local shopping street with the moniker "Kyoto's Kitchen". The shops lining this street usually sell souvenirs and finger food like croquettes, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), oden (stew), takoyaki (octopus balls), daifuku (stuffed rice cake), taiyaki (fish-shaped stuffed cake), and ice-cream. Since it's considered unusual to walk and eat at the same time in Japan, remember to finish your food first in front of the shop first before wandering off!
- Nishiki-Tenmangu Shrine: This little shrine located in Nishiki Market is where Sugawara no Michizane, the god of learning is worshipped. Although not impressively large, the shrine is nevertheless a good subject for pictures. You can even buy an adorable Hello Kitty amulet here!
- Kawaramachi OPA: You can find this large commercial complex right outside the exit of Kyoto-Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Railway. Many of the shops inside feature brands that are of Japanese origins such as the 100-yen shop SERIA and Kiddy Land, a specialty shop that deals with goods and accessories based on Japanese mascot characters.
The Latest and Tastiest Around Shijo / Karasuma / Kawaramachi
・The City Bakery - Kyoto Nishikikoji
This New York bakery opened a new branch on July 7 in an alleyway next to Nishiki Market. The shop operates from a renovated olden Japanese warehouse that has preserved the original building's historic and refined looks while ensuring the environment is comfortable for all and never gaudy. The menu is a delight to try as well. Signature items include Kyoto-style coffee, dessert, and other goodies. For example, the Nishikikoji branch has an exclusive dessert called Marshmallow Monaka, which is a monaka (crispy wafers) stuffed with soft and fluffy cotton candy that comes in two flavors - matcha lemon or dark chocolate with nuts. This intriguing marriage of Japanese and Western confectionery is definitely worth a bite or two!
4. Kiyomizudera Temple area
Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in the vicinity of Kiyomizudera are ancient streets that thread along old townhouses or restaurants in renovated homes built during an earlier time. Culinary treasures to be discovered here are Japanese-style desserts like zenzai (red-bean soup) and matcha sundaes. Not to be forgotten are the cafes with a view where you can lounge in leisure, such as Starbucks Coffee - Kyoto Ninenzaka Yasaka Chaya, a typical Starbucks with an atypical Japanese-style decor that takes you back to Japan from times of yore. Tucked away in the little side alleys of the street or along Kamo River's old buildings are established eateries and kaiseki restaurants that offer premium experiences for a pricier fee if you so choose to indulge yourself. Slip into a kimono, and you'll blend right in as you walk down the streets in search of a teahouse or restaurant that tickles your fancy. This may be the best way to completely immerse yourself in Kyoto's culturally rich background and environment.
- Kiyomizudera Temple: One of Japan's UNESCO sites with over a century of history, this shrine is built atop a high platform and offers fantastic views of the environment around. No wonder it's one of the must-visit historic destinations in Kyoto for virtually all visitors! The approach to the shrine is lined with souvenir shops like Honke Yatsuhashi Nishio and MALEBRANCHE Kyoto Kitayama.
- Ninenzaka / Sannenzaka: Stone pavements near Kiyomizudera with shops operating from traditional wooden houses tightly-packed on both sides. Vintage-style goods and snack shops abound, making them great places for walking, shopping, snacking, and unique pictures.
The Latest and Tastiest in Kiyomizudera
・Kumonocha / Sannenzaka
This is a traditional Japanese cafe located on Sannenzaka that reopened on March 26 after renovations. The cafe interior features a warm and modern Japanese design, making liberal use of wooden decorations to that end. Definitely try their matcha latte that comes topped with cloud-shaped mousse - it looks as great as it tastes! The shop also sells packs of tea bags wrapped in colorful furoshiki (traditional Japanese wrapping clothes) for that extra Kyoto flavor. The distinctive nature of these boxes makes them very suitable to bring home as souvenirs.
Attractions in Arashiyama include the beautiful Arashiyama bamboo forest, the impressive Togetsu-kyo Bridge, and the Sagano Romantic Train. Plenty of kimono experience shops here allow visitors to rent a beautiful traditional Japanese garb for photo-taking sessions with Arashiyama's amazing sceneries. This popular tourist attraction is easily accessible on three train lines, namely: Saga-Arashiyama Station on the JR Lines, Hankyu Arashiyama Station on the Hankyu Railway, and Arashiyama Station on the Keifuku Electric Railroad. There is a wide selection of sumptuous food in the area as well. Everywhere you turn, there will be a restaurant or two serving signature Kyoto food such as tofu cuisine. Drop by Yojiya Cafe, % Arabica, or other cafes with equally trendy decors to enjoy a relaxing cup of your favorite beverage in glamorous pleasure. Look out for shops selling soft-serve matcha ice cream or other Japanese confectionery as well! Whether you're trying to find a place for a proper meal, an after-meal dessert, or high tea, the streets of Arashiyama have got you covered and then some!
・Desserts / Cafes
- Arashiyama Bamboo Forest: This stretch of road is 400 meters long and surrounded on both sides by tall and towering bamboo shoots that almost seem to cover the sky. Most visitors simply cannot help but be awestruck by the impressive scene. Put on a kimono and take a picture with this iconic groove to make some tangible memories of this awesome attraction!
- Togetsu-kyo Bridge: Another famous attraction in Arashiyama, this wooden bridge spans 155 meters and is surrounded by luxuriant trees on both sides that change color and appearance every season. You're guaranteed a pretty sight no matter which time of the year you will be visiting. As a testament to how beautiful this place is, it is often used as filming location for many local dramas and movies.
- Nonomiya Shrine: Known to bestows blessings on those seeking romantic love and academic success, Nonomiya Shrine is also home to a rare black torii (shrine gate), whereas these gates are usually painted red in other shrines. Interesting things to try include the ema (wooden wish plaques) board and special ring amulets.
- Tenryu-ji: One of Arashiyama's best known temples. Attractions include the massive cloud dragon ceiling painting and the beautiful garden visible from the main building that presents new sceneries every seasonal change. This is a great spot to experience the vibes and aesthetics of Kyoto in full measure and comes highly recommended by us.
- Arashiyama Shopping Street: There are so many Arashiyama souvenir shops selling quality goods around the station that you could browse for all day if you like. After all that shopping, dip your tired feet into a foot bath and stroll through the eye-catching Kimono Forest made up of rolls upon rolls of yuzen-dyed traditional kimono.
The Latest and Tastiest in Arashiyama
・kyocafe chacha Arashiyama
You may have heard of kyocafe chacha as the inventor of the waffle popsicle that took the media by storm not too long ago. This waffle specialty store opened a cafe in Arashiyama on April 8 and immediately became an instagram sensation. To this day, visitors continue flocking to the cafe in droves to catch as many attention-grabbing photos of their incredibly pretty food servings as they can! Besides the adorable waffle popsicle, the Arashiyama branch also features a shop-exclusive uji matcha ice cream waffle. This is a great place for a break in between destinations that also comes with the perfect environment for unforgettable photos.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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