Kyoto food tours are a great way to get to know the city. The former capital of Japan is full of history and culture, as well as a rich food culture associated with that history. Matcha tea, of course, is known by many foreign tourists due to the beautiful tea ceremonies or its health benefits, but did you know there are certain special vegetables that are grown only in Kyoto, or that there is a certain famous tofu dish in Kyoto? Find out all about Kyoto’s famous food and drink culture below.
Kyoto Nishiki market tour
Nishiki market is called the “kitchen of Kyoto”. It started out around the year 1,310 as a wholesale district for fish. It then expanded into the retail business as well, selling not just fish but all kinds of foodstuff. Now, it is a narrow market street continuing on for 5 blocks. There are more than a hundred stores and stalls lining this street. And many of the stores have been run by families for generations. Each of the stores sells a whole lot of a certain kind of food, unlike a supermarket with a little of everything. Also, almost all of the food is produced locally around Kyoto. Some shops give out free samples or sell small portions that you can eat right in front of the store. And then if you like it, you can buy a larger amount. You’ll find pickled vegetables, Japanese sweets, dried seafood, and even sushi there. The lively market is always crowded with locals doing their daily shopping and tourists interested in seeing what is sold.
Access: a 5 minute walk from Shijo Station on the Karasuma Subway Line or Karasuma Station and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line.
It’s not easy to understand what exactly is being sold without some explanation. That is why if you’re a foodie, you should go to the market on a food tour. A local guide can explain to you what is sold at each of the stores, and what kind of dishes the ingredients are used. The market experience is more enjoyable with someone to explain things to you. You’ll also probably get some advice on what to eat or where to eat during your stay in Kyoto. Below are some Kyoto food tours you can try.
Japanese Foods Introduction Tour by Hero
Kyoto Geisha Lunch or Dinner Show
Kyoto is one of the few places left in Japan where they have authentic tea houses with Geisha and Maiko (young Geisha apprentice). If you visit Gion, you may be lucky enough to see one walking down the street. However, you’re not really allowed to talk to them or ask them to take a picture with you. Nowadays with the rising number of foreign tourists, they have a serious problem of being chased around by tourists acting like paparazzi. So if you see one walking down the street, respectfully give them some space and take pictures from afar.
If you’d like to see a Geisha or Maiko up close, you should book a lunch or dinner experience. Most tea houses are very exclusive and don’t accept first timers unless they are introduced by a regular client. So it’s extremely difficult for tourists to be able to book this kind of experience by themselves. However, you can go there if you participate in one of these tours below.
Fushimi Sake Tour
The Fushimi area is famous nowadays for the Fushimi Inari Shrine. You’ve probably seen pictures of this shrine with its hundreds of beautiful red “Torii” gates. It’s a spectacular sight to see and a great spot to take pictures. Fushimi is also an area that is famous as a place of Sake production. For those of you that don’t know what “Sake” is, it’s a type of Japanese alcohol made from fermented rice. The high quality groundwater is the reason why this particular area is crowded with many sake companies. You can visit the companies to go on a factory tour or try the different kinds of sake that they produce. It’s an experience that people with an affinity for alcohol will enjoy immensely. You can also buy sake as a souvenir to take home to family and friends. The tours that will take you to Fushimi are below.
Kyoto's Matcha Tea
Kyoto, as many of you know, is a city famous for matcha tea. You’ll find all kinds of sweets flavored with matcha. Matcha flavored KitKats are especially popular as souvenirs to take home from Japan. The Uji area in the south of Kyoto Prefecture is especially famous for matcha tea. Though only 20 minutes by train from Kyoto Station, it’s an area surrounded by nature with several World Heritage Sites as well. The most popular temple to visit is Byodoin. It’s a magnificent piece of architecture, completely symmetrical, and built modeled after the Buddhist paradise. It’s the structure that’s on the back of the 10 yen coin. Visit these temples and shrines on the tours below and also enjoy some authentic matcha tea or matcha flavored sweets in Uji.
Kyoto Food Tour at Night
When visiting a new country, trying the local food is also a great way to get to know the culture. Maybe you’ve heard of “Kaiseki”? It’s a type of Japanese cuisine that originated from the tea ceremony. Long ago, the host of a tea ceremony would provide “Kaiseki” food as a meal for his guests before the main tea ceremony. “Kaiseki” dishes are made using the aesthetic sense of “wabi-sabi.” “Wabi-Sabi” is a difficult phrase to explain. It’s a particularly Japanese sense of finding beauty in the simplicity or imperfections of things and their ephemeral nature. You’ll find these dishes too beautiful to eat. “Kaiseki” food uses seasonal ingredients and tries to draw out their natural flavor. Showing hospitality and consideration towards the guest through the food is also another rule in “Kaiseki” cuisine. It’s a bit expensive but trying this type of cuisine is another important part of getting to know Japanese culture. Have a local tour guide make a reservation and go with you to explain the food so that you can thoroughly enjoy the “Kaiseki” experience.
Unique Kyoto Food and Drinks
Yu-dofu - tofu boiled in a broth; the groundwater in Kyoto is soft water containing only a small amount of minerals. This means that when the tofu is boiled in it, the tofu doesn’t become too firm as it would in hard water. So the tofu has a smoother texture which makes it better tasting.
Matcha - a fine powder made from steamed and dried green tea leaves, or a tea made by frothing this powder with hot water
Kyo-Yasai (Kyoto vegetables) - vegetables which have been grown in Japan since before the Meiji Era (~1868) which are grown locally in the Kyoto area
Obanzai - this is a term generalizing dishes that are cooked in a home. you can find small restaurants providing these kind of dishes in Kyoto
Sabazushi - mackerel sushi; Kyoto is a Prefecture without a coast, so in the olden days all the fish had to be dried out or pickled in vinegar before being brought from the Sea of Japan. That's how this sushi of pickled mackerel came to exist.
You’ll be able to find local guides for food tours in Kyoto on TripleLights. We provide a service of matching customers with the best tours and guides for them. It’s like a marketplace of guides from which you can choose.
Every guide creates their own tours so all of the tours are unique. You can also communicate directly with the guide before actually booking a tour to ask questions or convey requests, for example the length of a tour or where you want to eat.
Also, if you don’t find the perfect food tour on the list of tours, you can request a tour for however long you'd like, listing what you’d like to see or eat or experience. All of the guides will be able to see requests like this and the guides that are available on the date you requested, will recommend a tour itinerary just for you. So, you’ll be able to compare what several guides suggest and see which one looks to be the best choice. This way you can create your own customized tour which takes you wherever you want to go.
Most of the tours are walking tours, created so that you can use the public transportation system while sightseeing and get a feel for moving around Kyoto. It’s also an experience that will give you insight on how the local people move around during their daily lives. It will help you later on when you want to explore the city by yourself. However, you also have the option of hiring a private car and driver for your tour or just to get around. This is an option that people with disabilities or elderly people who aren’t able to walk long distances would find helpful. If it’s just going to a certain restaurant from your hotel and then going back afterwards, catching a taxi is also fine. But if you’re going to be moving around for half a day or more, having a car just for you is pretty convenient.
And make sure you take a look at the guides’ profile videos to see what kind of person they are and also see the reviews they got from other customers. This is an important step in choosing a tour. At most tour agencies, you aren’t able to choose your guide nor see what they look or sound like before the day of the tour. But having a pleasant companion during your tour, especially if you’ll be having a meal with them, is an important aspect in having a great experience. Kyoto is a place with a unique food culture and mannerisms. Participate in a food tour and enjoy the historic city from a different angle.