ZSAT: Kyoto + a Chance Food Blogger Meetup! / by Alice Zhao

We had exactly one day in Kyoto and it was a long and amazing day! We started it by meeting up with Marc Matsumoto of NoRecipes and Stephane Lemagnen of ZenCanCook (who both happened to be in Kyoto at the same time) for lunch at Komameya. Komameya is a small chain that serves Kyoto cuisine and all the items included Yuba, or the curd from soy milk. We've never had fresh yuba before, so this was the time to try it.

We ordered the set meal which came with a variety of items made from yuba. I like the fried yuba the best. Most of the dishes are pretty mild to showcase the taste and flavor of the yuba. Man, I really love tofu. They even sell yuba ice cream here, but seeing that it was the middle of fall and the ice cream machine was sitting outside the restaurant, we didn't ask for any.

With our stomaches filled, we decided to walk off lunch and headed over to the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion. Three years ago, Jared and I went to the Golden Pavilion, but we figured this time we were better equipped with a fancy camera and lens. We ended up with some great shots- a big improvement from the last time, I must say!

It was a perfect day for photos- the sky was extremely blue with very few clouds
Afterwards we headed to the the Ryoanji, with the famous zen rock garden.

We accomplished something of a photo trifecta: ZenChef in a Zen Garden, being Zen.

Marc seemed to always be behind the camera. Somehow this was the only picture I took of him!
On our plane ride to Japan we read about the Fire Festival, north of Kyoto and the four of us were excited to go. This was an interesting experience to say the least. It was nearing dinner time so we thought we'd grab some dinner at the festival. We crammed into a train that seemed to only inch along the tracks. An hour later we exited the train only to stand in another line to check out the fire festival. It was extremely crowded and we were herded through like cattle. It was all a bit anticlimactic, not to mention the lack of food. To sum it up from a foreigner's muted and uninformed viewpoint, it was a bunch of people carrying around huge torches. Some people showed their tushes... others did not. Am I wrong here? Even the Japanese folks behind us were complaining about the lack of excitement and the long wait! (as Marc translated for us) We were famished and tired of standing for hours on end so we decided to leave. But when we got to the "exit" of the festival we realized that in order to leave, we had to stand in yet another long line just to get back onto the train to take us back to Kyoto. Sigh.

So you could only imagine our relief when we finally made it to our dinner destination, another meal that Jared and I were most looking forward to on this whole entire trip. We've been dreaming about yakitori in Kyoto since the day we got back from Japan 3 years ago. Forget French Laundry, forget Alinea. We'd rather have ... yakitori.

We read about Torito via KyotoFoodie's blog. I almost cried when we found out the restaurant was full when we arrived. But let me tell you, this meal was worth the wait (and the agony!)
Torito sign

Jared and Marc looking over the menu.

Before we could even look at the menu, we requested 4 ice cold glasses of beer. STAT. Only after we took our first extremely long gulp could we even look at the menu.
So they have a "secret" menu. Well it's the secret menu if you can only read English. Their "secret" menu is just their normal menu in Japanese :) And only on their "secret" menu is Chicken Sashimi (Toritsukuri). I guess foreigners are not inclined to try it, so they left it out of the English menu. This was the one item Jared really wanted to try while in Japan, also makes for a good conversation starter back home. ;)

Mmmmh, grilled mature chicken neck, gizzards, skin and fried skin. There were a few other dishes that we didn't get to photograph. But wow, you can really taste the binchotan (type of charcoal) in the chicken and that is a good thing. All the food was seasoned perfectly and grilled to perfection. I am not exaggerating. You can't help but close your eyes after tasting every single piece. As a warning, if you do eat here, come early. By the time we arrived around 9pm most of the skewers were sold out. I think we cleaned out the rest of their daily supply of yakitori!

So then we moved on to the chicken sashimi. And here came the moment of truth. IT TASTED WAY MORE DELICIOUS THAN IT LOOKS!!!! The liver was creamy and fat, not a hint of the typical gritty cooked liver taste. I've been describing it to everyone as uni-like. Delicious! I could have eaten so much more. The center breast meat was sweet and tender. If you didn't know it wasn't fish, they could of served it on rice and called it nigiri- and we'd all be none the wiser. The heart, on the other hand, was a little crunchy and did not have much flavor. You were given two dipping sauces, soy and wasabi or salt and sesame seed oil. We preferred the salt and oil.

And the chicken meatball. It was so incredibly tender and they also gave us an egg yolk for dipping. Heavenly. We tried to savor each and every bite. If only I could have brought this stuff home with me.... I will remember this meal until pretty much my next trip to Japan.

We said our goodbyes to Marc and Stephane as they needed to get up super early the next morning for an epic day of their own. You can read Stephane's account of it (which we are TOTALLY jealous of).
On our way back to our ryokan, Jared and I walked through Gion. I love love love this area, it's streets are completely preserved and pristine. You feel like you've stepped into a Japan of centuries past. This is also the best place to catch sight of a real working geisha. We actually saw several but they were... working. It seemed a little inappropriate to get a picture of them with their guests ;) So we settled for night shots.
No pictures of geishas, but the hubs looks like he's in a movie poster!

The next morning we stopped by the temple near Gion for a couple pics before we made our way back to Osaka.

We walked through Gion one last time to see it during the day. I have only seen it at night- AND we saw the cutest puppy of all time :)

And here I am trying to be artsy one last time :)

We wish we had more time to spend in Kyoto, but we loved every minute of it (well perhaps not the 4 hours we spent standing in crowded areas). Regardless, I heart Kyoto!