Fascinating Facts for Foodies Visiting Kyoto
If you’re planning a trip to Kyoto, you might be wondering about the city’s foodie scene.
While Kyoto is rich in history and its iconic temples attract plenty of visitors, no trip would be complete without partaking of the local food. If you like learning about culture and daily life wherever you travel, you will love what Kyoto has to offer.
As local experts, we relish in taking visitors to our favorite side streets and neighborhood tachinomi (roughly translated to “standing bar” but more akin to a tapas bar than a late-night drinking bar). Eating like the locals do is an insightful way to delve deeper into local culture and social norms.
On our Kyoto Night Streets and Eats tour, we take just a few curious travelers at a time (no more than 6) around our favorite spots, including the Gion — home of the Geisha. We talk about the quirks of Kyoto and we share dinner together across two different restaurant stops. It’s always a fun night of moseying around our own local neighborhoods and giving visitors the inside track on Kyoto’s fantastic food scene!
Of course, we want you to enjoy your visit to Kyoto whether you join us or not. So take a look at the following foodie tips for Kyoto visitors and also check out our blog for plenty of local recommendations to make your Japan trip all the more memorable.
For now, let’s dive into some of our favorite tips and insights into the Kyoto foodie scene…
1. Buy the Bottled Beer, Not Draft
If you’re a foodie visiting Kyoto, you’ll probably be interested in sampling our local drinks, too. In many local restaurants, large bottles of beer are actually better value than draft beers. And, because the breweries are so close by when you’re visiting Kyoto, the beer can sometimes even taste fresher than what’s on tap.
Asahi Beer was born in Osaka, which is just 45 minutes from Kyoto, and the original red-brick brewery building is still in use today. They even offer free tours! If you’re interested in visiting both cities, check out our Osaka tour from Kyoto and we’ll share all our favorite spots with you.
2. We Eat the Fatty Meat in Japan
Whereas Western diets have, for many years now, been trying to breed out the fat in meats, the Japanese feel that “no fat = no flavor.” Local pricing reflects these preferences; it is not unusual for boneless chicken breast meat to be sold at literally half the price of boneless thigh meat (skin on, naturally).
The same goes for pork and beef. You can sometimes find lean beef, but it is almost invariably from Australia — and considerably cheaper than the Japanese beef.
Fun fact: The big beer bottles are 633ml. It’s an odd number because a beer tax was introduced in 1940 that set tax as a per-bottle assessment (not per ml), and the government set the maximum size for a bottle as 633.168ml. That strange number is a rough translation of 3.5 “cups” in a traditional Japanese measurement method that is no longer used…with the exception of ordering sake at restaurants.
3. Defining the Word “Meat” in Japan
When we say the word “meat” in Japanese, what we’re referring to will largely depend on which part of the country you are in.
In Nagoya and east/north (which includes greater Tokyo and all the way up to Hokkaido), it can be safely assumed that when someone says meat they mean beef.
In everything west/south of that (which includes Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and more), using the word “meat” most often means it’s pork.
Of course there’s plenty of both kinds of meat available all over Japan, so you can feast wherever you are!
4. Avoid the Number Four!
Traditionally, items were never sold in sets of four because the number four sounds like the Japanese word for death. Nowadays, you’ll see goods sold in sets of four…but you won’t see a fourth floor at a hospital!
Fun foodie fact: Lamb can only be widely found in Hokkaido, which is a result of early Western influence there.
5. Bring on the Broth
You cannot come to Japan and miss out on the nuances of broth. In fact, we could wax poetic about the beautiful broths and noodle dishes in Kyoto all night long. But, don’t worry, there is so much more to sample!
To give you a quick primer: The broth in udon/soba noodle soups is often said to be saltier in Tokyo than in western parts of Japan. In truth, people only think that because the broth there is darker from being infused with soy sauce.
In the west, including in Kyoto, people largely eschew using soy sauce in their broths, instead focusing on a mild seafood base. But when you measure the sodium levels, they all come out to be just about the same!
6. Give the Gift of Fancy Fruit
In case you’re trying to impress your new local friends in Japan (hint hint…that’s us!), there’s a fun way you can get into our good graces.
Melons and other fancy fruits can cost over US$100 in department stores! Elaborately packaged, these are not meant to be personally enjoyed, but rather to be given as precious gifts.
It is said that the great thing about food gifts is they don’t clutter up the small spaces we live in; once they are enjoyed, they are no more than a memory.
No pressure to buy us fancy fruit gifts! We’d be happy to just spend a night walking around the streets of Kyoto and sharing our favorite foods with you. If you’re ready to join us, check out the Kyoto foodie tour details or just reach out. We’d be happy to chat more with you fellow foodies!