Jun 1, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Food Hunting & Attractions Hopping in Kyoto (26 Oct 2014)

Our initial plan was to explore Osaka for two days in row. However, last minute shuffle was made and we did Kyoto in between. We were so worn out the day before in Osaka that we ended up waking up an hour later than scheduled. Nonetheless, we shared a box of caramel flavored milk before heading out for a different kind of breakfast.

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Caramel Flavored Milk @ Lawson
By different, I mean "eat like a Japanese". Here we were at Nakau, which is located midway of our 1km walk to ShinOsaka Station, checking out the existing promotion and meal options before making any order at the meal ticket vending machines. Talking about ticket vending machine, I think it is a super brilliant idea as it omits the need for a cashier and focuses your manpower on preparing meals and serving customers.

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Front View @ Nakau なか卯
All you need to do is to select the items you want to order, pay and retrieve your freshly printed meal voucher which the staff will collect upon delivery of your meals. However, the machines in Nakau do not have "English" language option, so you have to rely solely on images on the screen to make your order.

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Niku Don (380yen)
Since our modus operandi is always order different items and share, we ordered niku don and udon with bean paste. Overall portion of niku don was decent, considering its relatively cheap price tag. It was loaded with quite alot of beef slices, stir fry onions and a piece of well seared tofu. Flavor and texture were good, totally no complains.

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Udon with Bean Paste (290yen)
Compared to niku don, my bowl of udon came in smaller portion and also meatless. Despite so, I found myself quite fond of the bean paste. Slightly nutty with sour base flavor, it went along well with udon and I ended up drinking the soup till the last drop.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 670yen

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Shinkansen @ Kyoto Station
After our first "eat like Japanese" breakfast, we continued walking to ShinOsaka Station, boarded a train (via JR Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen) to Kyoto Station, before switching to another train (via JR Nara Line) to JR Inari Station.

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Riding on Shinkansen
Riding on Shinkansen, the journey from ShinOsaka Station to Kyoto Station took us about 15min. Compared to non-Shinkansen line, the same journey would take you about 30min. For those planning to move around East Japan, grab your Japan Rail Pass and enjoy limitless Shinkansen and JR train rides, for a single Shinkansen ride can easily make up to 80% of the cost of your Japan Rail Pass.

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Giant Torii Gate @ Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
There is no way one could miss Fushimi Inari Shrine upon arrival at JR Inari Station. Within a stone throw away, you can easily spot the giant torii gate gracing the entrance of Fushimi Inari Shrine.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
By the time we arrived at JR Inari Station, Fushimi Inari Shrine was already swarmed with Japanese and tourists on a Sunday morning.

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Fountain @ Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
Prior to entering the shrine, many were seen busy cleansing themselves at the fountain situated on the left of main entrance. Clear instructions were displayed to guide visitors on the steps involved for proper cleansing.

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Do It Like The Japanese Do @ Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
Since it was more of customary practice, I decided to give myself a cleanse too! Many, like me, were totally new to this and often being found reading intently and following the steps illustrated.

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Ring The Suzu @ Haiden (Oratory) of Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
According to www.japan-guide.com, Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Large Suzus, i.e. jingle bells, can be seen draping over entrance, which, according to Wikipedia, one could ring to acquire positive power and authority while dispel evil.

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Torii Blessings
For those who would like to post their blessings can do so by purchasing these tiny torii gate at the counter. Once you are done with writing, you may proceed to hang them at this corner where countless miniature torii gates swarmed.

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Fox Blessings
Foxes are thought to be Inari's messenger, so you will come across this corner in Fushimi Inari Shrine where plenty of fox face adorning the blessings corner.

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Densely Packed Red Torii Gates 
Behind Fushimi Inari's main buildings, you can find thousands of red torii gates straddling along the trails, which lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari. Standing at 233 meters above water level, hiking to and fro the summit of Mount Inari will take 2-3 hours. As we were rather short of time, we did not take the hike.

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Fox - Inari's Messenger
Rather, we explored the surrounding compound of Fushimi Inari Shrine where fox statues carrying rice paddy could be spotted across the shrine grounds.

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Autumn Leaves
As the season kicked in, trees around the shrine grounds were already showing autumn colours. Nothing can beat a beautiful morning in autumn with blue sky and autumn orange.

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Store Front @ 寺子屋本舗 
On the way out of Fushimi Inari Shrine, you will pass by a row of shops selling Japanese confectioneries. For those looking to buy yatsuhashi, here is where you can get sample bites of both unbaked and baked versions. Further down the row, right at the exit of Fushimi Inari Shrine, you will come across this candy store,寺子屋本舗, selling soft serve ice cream.

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Soft Serve in the Making @ 寺子屋本舗 
All you need to do is queue up at store front, place your order to the friendly boss, and there he turns to his right, placing a tub of ready made soft serve and weaving the swirl of soft serve for your consumption.

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Sake Soft Serve (380yen) @ 寺子屋本舗 
The adventurous us were utterly exhilarated by the prospect of sake soft serve. Priced equal to the usual suspects, 380yen for sake soft serve was quite a steal. It had a dense texture, allowing the base flavor of milk to linger and the mild flavour of sake to triumph on. I love this uniquely refreshing soft serve very much!

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Tofu Soft Serve (380yen) @ 寺子屋本舗 
Another interesting prospect was this tofu soft serve. So I thought it would be rather bland but I was wrong. Now, imagine you are having soya ice cream, but denser.

Total Damage = 760yen

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Queue @ Izuju Sushi いづ重
After our quick soft serve session, we boarded Keihan line (210yen/pax) from Fushimi-Inari Station to Gion Shijo Station, in seek of Kyoto sushi. After 600m walk east, we managed to locate Izuju Sushi, graced by an overwhelming queue outside the restaurant.

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Yasaka Shrine
While waiting for our table, we spotted this unknown shrine located right opposite of Izuju Sushi. It turned out to be Yasaka Shrine.

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Interior @ Izuju Sushi いづ重
After 10minutes wait or so, we were seated at the deepest corner in Izuju Sushi. Despite less than 30 pax seating, the establishment is more spacious than most.

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Sushi Station @ Izuju Sushi いづ重
Flanking the left of Izuju Sushi's entrance is their sushi station, where the chef kept rolling fresh batches of Kyoto sushi. Some ready made sushi sets were also laid out in front of the sushi station for grab-and-go customers.

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Assorted Sushi for 2 Pax Set B (3,154 yen) Izuju Sushi いづ重
Izuju Sushi's prices range from 800yen to 3,000yen. I must admit it was a rather tough choice, both in terms of variety and price. Luckily there are few assorted sets for you to choose from, which in fact, cheaper than ordering ala carte.

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Saba Sushi (left most), Inari Sushi (hidden) and Deluxe Hako Sushi (forefront) Izuju Sushi いづ重
Made of chub mackerel with salt and rice vinegar and rolled in kelp, the most expensive item in our set was none other than Saba Sushi (1,080yen for half of ala carte portion). After undergoing the process of curing, the flavour of chub mackerel was no doubt more intense. The saltiness was akin to sea water, which almost felt like the chub mackerel was alive and swimming in the ocean.

On the other hand, Deluxe Hako Sushi (1,620yen for full portion), which is a combination of omelette, prawn, red sea beam, and roasted eel on vinegary rice. Mainly cooked, it gave not only variety to the overall set but contrast to Saba Sushi. Inari Sushi (454yen for 3/5 portion), in turn, was vinegary rice, hemp seed, burdock, yuzu in a bag of deep fried tofu sushi, which served as a well thought ending to savory meal.

Such lovely construction was no other. I fell in love with Kyoto sushi already.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 3,748 yen

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Baumkuchen (540yen)
If Inari Sushi barely serves as your sweet ending, walk two doors down towards Yasaka Shrine direction and grab yourself some  baumkuchen. It is basically sponge layered cake in the shape of cylinder, sans the cream between layers. Despite so, I found it more dense than sponge cake and my tongue hinted slight presence of cream. I must say it was nicely executed but pricey.

Total Damage = 540yen

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Kimono Girls @ Kyoto
On our 1.4km walk to Nishinki Food Market, we spotted a handful of Japanese girls garbed in traditional kimonos. Such sight was a delight to the little modern soul of mine. I wanted badly to snap their photos and finally my chance came while waiting at the red lights.

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Crossing River @ Kyoto
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Rain or Storm, Shopping Continues @ Nishinki Food Market
Our mission in Nishinki Food Market was none other than snacks hunting, including but not limited to Mochi and Isobeyaki at Shijo Avenue, Mitarashi Dango (few blocks down Mochi stall) and black sesame ice cream at some artisan sesame shop.

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Random Shrine @ Nishiki Food Market
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Pickles Shop @ Nishinki Food Market
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Pickles is a Norm @ Nishinki Food Market
After roaming Nishinki Food Market from head to tail, we found nothing in our list but plenty of pickles and confectionary stalls.

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Kyoto Sweets (100yen, I think)
For all sweets lovers, Kyoto is just the right shopping place for you. Assortments of sweets, be it forms, flavours or colors, are beyond count. The prices for Kyoto sweets are equally shocking too. Despite so, curiosity had gotten the better of me and I picked up one of the Kyoto sweets. Just the right amount of chewiness without being coyingly sweet, it was not a bad experiment after all.

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Katsuya @ Pontocho
By dusk, we headed to Pontocho, in hunt for some inexpensive yakitori. Being a long standing Yakitori and skewered dishes shop in Kyoto, Katsuya was where we dined in. For those who want something different, Pontocho offers traditional and modern Kyoto cuisine, as well as foreign cuisine too.

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Asahi Draft (550yen) @ Katsuya
I must admit that nothing was more blissful than a glass of chilly Asahi draft beer after a whole day of walking.

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Chicken and Welsh Onion Yakitori (200yen/2 sticks) @ Katsuya
Katsuya's yakitori selection is rather limited, with most ala carte items being priced at 300yen/2 sticks. Ala carte aside, a set of 6 is also made available at 900yen, comprised 2 sticks of chicken, 1 stick of chicken and welsh onion, 1 stick of chicken dumpling, 1 stick of chicken skin and 1 stick of chicken liver.

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Gyoza and Pork Kushikatsu (200yen/2 sticks) @ Katsuya
Katsuya's kushikatsu selection, on the other hand, offers wider options to diners. Most of the basic kushikatsu are priced at 200yen/2sticks, with premium ones being priced at 300yen to 400yen for 2 sticks. Similarly, a set of 8 sticks is available at 1,000yen, which will be individually handpicked by the chef.

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Mushroom and Beef Kushikatsu (200yen/2 sticks) @ Katsuya
Compared to Hottokeya, Katsuya's yakitori was better. Our sticks of chicken and welsh onion were luxuriously glazed and perfectly executed to retain its natural juiciness, to the extent I believe over grilling yakitori would be a sin in Japan.

Their kushikatsu, on the other hand, were equally impressive. Similar to Daruma's, Katsuya's kushikatsu boasted glorious golden outer layer, promising nothing but utter crispiness, and exploding goodness.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 3,672yen

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Banana Roll from Lawson
By 8.30pm, we were all done and ready to head back to hotel. We boarded Keihan line (150yen/pax) from Gion Shijo Station, transited at JR Tofukuji Station and headed for ShinOsaka Station. On our 1km walk back to Hotel Consort, we paid another customary visit to nearby Lawson and grabbed this banana roll dessert, which was quite a disappointment.

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Random Kyoto Alcohol (648yen)
On the bright side, we were well compensated with these delicious miniature alcohol which we bought in Kyoto. Being rice based, the milky white one had a strong kicky flavour, though not too harsh on tongue. The clear looking one, being plum based, was sweet, fruity and easier to drink. Note to self, must buy a bigger bottle next time.


IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Nakau なか卯 - 3/5
    • 寺子屋本舗 - 2/5
    • Izuju Sushi いづ重 - 5/5
    • Katsuya - 4/5
  • Price
    • Nakau なか卯 - 5/5
    • 寺子屋本舗 - 3/5
    • Izuju Sushi いづ重 - 4/5
    • Katsuya - 4/5
  • Food
    • Nakau なか卯 - 4/5
    • 寺子屋本舗 - 4/5
    • Izuju Sushi いづ重 - 5/5
    • Katsuya - 4.5/5
  • Verdict
    • Nakau なか卯 - Decent meals at cheap price tags
    • 寺子屋本舗 - Unique ice cream flavours that worth the try
    • Izuju Sushi いづ重 - Sushi like no others, there is no way you can get this quality and this price in Malaysia!
    • Katsuya - Casual and humble set up with great food
My personal attraction verdicts for:
  • Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社 - Love the grandeur of huge red torii gates leading up to shrines of various sizes and locations
  • Nishinki Food Market - Good place to shop for cooking ingredients

DINING INFO:

Nakau なか卯
淀川区西中島3-23-9, Osaka, Ōsaka, Japan
Operation Hours: Likely to be 24 hours
Tel: Not available
Credit Cards: No (Payment is made at self service meal ticket vending machine)

寺子屋本舗
深草稲荷中之町46番地1, Kyoto, Kyōto, 612-8315, Japan
Operation Hours: Not available
Tel: +81 75-643-0050
Credit Cards: Yes

Izuju Sushi いづ重
292 Gionmachi Kitagawa, KyotoHigashiyama Ward, Kyoto Prefecture 605-0073, Japan
Operation Hours: Not available
Tel: +81 75 561 0019
Credit Cards: Yes

Katsuya
1F - KATSUYA Building 170 Kashiwaya-cho, Pontocho-dori Shijo agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto City 604-8014
Operation Hours: 15:00 - 20:30, closed on Wednesdays (unless public holidays)
Tel: +81-75-211-2093
Credit Cards: No (Cash only)

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