Monday, 2 May 2011

Kyoto: the best of the rest

Kyoto. Food. Mwoah. From the breakfasts of brewed coffee and crustless sandwiches and salad at lovely Teramachi cafe in the Sanjo-dori covered arcade to the seaweed-wrapped delicacies on offer at the airport. Okay, the taste of the crab miso from off the ¥137 sushi train took a few hours to go away, but even the infamous natto I dared to have at Asuka alongside their famous pile of tempura wasnt that bad. (I was dying to know how bad it could be, ever since Sean McAllister in Japan: A Story of Love and Hate likened eating rotting soybeans in raw egg to eating a bowl of snot.)

Teramachi Coffee
 There was Ippodo, purveyors of the best matcha available to humankind. I also got some genmaicha because I liked the tin and the dark wood-beamed shop and the bustling women in fetching aprons and caps. 

There was beef curry at  Honyaradō , a timbery book-lined institution among uni students for thirty years, and thus more about the ambiance than the cheap, hearty food. There was the lunch niju bento at Uosue.

And the most incredible grilled unagi at Kaneyo, and teriyaki skewers loaded with anything from chicken-neck skin to duck breast at Torito.

 There was Café Bibliotec Hello!, a café mashed together with a bookshop and gallery in a hollowed-out machiya that took several goes to find – the Lonely Planet area map marked it wrongly, I’m sure of it, though I seemed to be very challenged generally finding places in Kyoto, even accounting for the frequent lack of street signs. I’m glad we persevered, though it wasn’t until the last day in Kyoto we found it – and then only for uncommonly excellent espresso, which we drank at a low fifties coffee table by a glowing globe of the world.

 There was scotch available in vending machines at every corner. There was this metal-bead-festooned pub selling Guinness  or rather there wasn't, since it was shut when we discovered it and then we could never find it again.

There was a green-tea sweet to go with the bowl of matcha at the tearooms of the Murin-an villa in northern Higashima, leading to an uncontrollable compulsion to pay ¥1600 for a box of them. As with an almost identical experience at the Urasenke Chadō Research Center, the woman kneeling in her full kimono to present the tea cupped in her two hands then slowly bowed until her forehead touched the tatami mat between us, and I had no idea what to do in response exactly the same, or a halfway bow, or nothing? I sort of cringed and smiled and nodded, for all the world like a gauche Westerner. Also at the villa a wedding-photo session was taking place, which was further grounds for embarrassment – I'd taken off my worn, battered Camper boots at the tearoom entrance, and along had come the exquisitely gowned couple and seated themselves on the steps right next to them. And the photographer had covered up my footwear with a couple of parasols, and was busily photographing away. I waited and waited in my socks, and still it went on. Eventually I darted in while the couple were being rearranged slightly to retrieve them, muttering gomen, probably risibly inappropriate to the situation, and the doll-like bride looked me up and down bemusedly. 


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