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36 Hours in Kyoto (food+omiyage edition)

Many visit Kyoto with a lengthy list of temples and shrines, but that’s not all Kyoto has to offer. From kaiseki meals to trendy cafes, Kyoto blends tradition with modernity. I’ve always wanted to write a 36 hours itinerary so as the Japanese say when asked for a recommendation, here are my オススメ (o-su-su-me).


8 a.m. Breakfast at 進々堂 Shinshindo

Nothing is more comforting than the smell of melty butter and coffee brewing in the morning. Whipping up some of the freshest breads in town, Shinshindo Teramachi makes for a great breakfast stop. The original Shinshindo was founded in 1930 and is an iconic Kyoto institution located across from Kyoto University campus. Like many great cafes around the world, Shinshindo was a place for students and activists to congregate for political and social debates throughout the decades. The founder of Shinshindo, Hitoshi Tsuzuki, wanted to provide authentic French breads that were made fresh every day and his grandson operates the boulangerie chain in that spirit today.

Teramachi Shinshindo 進々堂 (try to visit the original one across Kyoto University if you can!)

Madeleines and financiers (my favorites treats to have with coffee)

A really fresh selection of baked breads; iconic selections include the curry-pan and the melon-pan

Morning cup of coffee with a cheesy pastry that I just couldn’t pass up. If you opt to dine in, they warm up your breads so they’re served fresh and toasty

11 a.m. Visit Ippodo Honten for some tea leaves and omiyage

If you don’t try green tea in Kyoto, can you even say you visited? Second stop, swing by Ippodo Honten for some omiyage shopping and be dazzled by the number of tea leaves you can choose from. I also love to pick up Ippodo powder tea because they’re great for making ice matchas in the summertime. In my previous Kyoto post I introduced Kaikado’s beautifully designed chazutsu tea caddies. Well at Ippodo Honten, you can actually pick up a Kaikado chazutsu with the Ippodo seal on it to store your tea leaves–a worthy buy if you’re a tea lover. If you still  haven’t splurged enough, sit down in the adjacent Ippodo Tearoom to enjoy some tea and wagashi 和菓子 because now it’s your turn to treat yourself.

Ippodo Tea Company 京都本店 is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood with a nice tearoom for those that want to sit and enjoy freshly brewed green tea

For the brave ones, try to crack the Ippodo menu written in Japanese. Or if you fail, there’s a tea tasting room when you first walk in; simple put your name down and then you’ll get a 10 minute time slot to try teas and decide which ones suit you best

Kaikado x Ippodo chazutsu are great gifts. They’re stunning and a great way to keep tea and coffee fresh. I actually picked one up at Ippodo and have been polishing it every day to keep that shine since

1:00 p.m. Indulge in a 3-Michelin Star Kaiseki at Kikunoi Honten

Reserve a table at Kikunoi Honten ahead of time and you’ll be rewarded with an impressive dining experience. At Kikunoi, every single course served has an unique story and flow to it. The menu is fluid and changes every month, showcasing Chef Yoshihiro Murata’s creative use of fresh seasonal ingredients. As each dish is brought out, your private server will treat you with a short narrative about how the inception of the dish. If you’re an English speaker, the server will present you a colorful Kikunoi book that illustrates the stories behind different courses and ingredients.

For our visit, we tried the Fumizuki (July) menu and were presented with an assortment of tasty summer fishes. Highlights include the grilled ayu sweet fish and the hamo pike conger. The use of shiso flowers everywhere were lovely reminders of summer as well. Overall an incredible kaiseki experience celebrating seasonal ingredients.

Assortment of July appetizers: hamo sushi, octopus roe, dried green gourd, shiso flowers, baby abalone, and brook shrimp

Sashimi of blanched hamo (pike conger) and tai (red sea bream) with colorful shiso flowers and curled cucumbers

Braised pork belly with potato purée that tasted as hearty as it sounds

Uni tofu with wasabi jelly was my favorite dish of them all, subtle flavors that just flowed together really well

Salt-grilled ayu (sweetfish), such a simple concept but the execution was flawless here. We made a joke to our server that it was so incredible we were going to try it at home and she gave us a polite smile, as if to tell us we could never achieve the same umami flavors at home

A fragrant bowl of hamo (pike conger) over rice

Corn sorbet with grilled corn kernel (this was incredible and had a smoky creaminess to it)

5 p.m. Evening stroll through the historic Gion District

Historic and trendy, the Gion district is prettiest at dusk when the store lights just turn on. Strolling along the Shirakawa River, you’ll spot interesting cafes and restaurants all housed in machiya townhouses. I particularly love Pass the Baton, a chic second-hand shop that has one of the most eclectic but interesting retail spaces I’ve ever visited. Because Pass the Baton has unique brand collaborations with local and international brands, the vintage trinkets on display are all one of a kind.  If you’re a design and crafts lover, this is the place to pick up an unique gift in Kyoto.

Pass the Baton in Gion is the brand’s third boutique shop, with the first two located in Tokyo

My type of indoor slippers (love these aesthetics)

The second floor feels like an exhibit. There’s even an alcove full of vintage items (think Birkin, Prada, and traditional kimono pieces) that you have to take your shoes off to view

You never know what you might find in Gion–we passed by a beautiful Hermes storefront and it turns out Hermes was having a limited time pop-up store in Gion. Although the pop-up shop has now closed, who knows what you might find there next!

Post-rain Gion glistens in the evening light. Wait a little longer and maybe you’ll catch a geisha running to her evening engagement

8 p.m. Order some Ichiran Ramen from a vending machine

Whether it’s for dinner or late night cravings, Ichiran Ramen is the best way to end a night. In case you haven’t heard of this Japanese ramen chain, Ichiran is a wildly popular ramen-ya specialising in flavorful pork-bone broth and house-made chili paste. Because it’s open 24hours, you will always have incredible ramen noodles whenever you want, and however you want it. After ordering your ramen noodles (~$7) and desired toppings from a vending machine, you will get to choose how creamy you like your broth, how well done you want your noodles, and the condiments that go into your soup base.

My recommendation? Regular broth, firm noodles, a soft boiled egg, kikurage mushrooms, and extra chashuu pork slices.

Order your noodles on the magical ramen vending machine, and if you’re like us… get lots of toppings

Soft boiled egg is a MUST!

Bottom of an Ichiran bowl is a privilege only true ramen slurpers can see


11 a.m. Savor Japanese bites at Nishiki Market, ‘Kyoto’s Pantry’

If there’s Tsukiji Market in Tokyo, there’s Nishiki Market 錦市場 in Kyoto. There’s something charming about perusing colorful food stalls and wondering which one to stop at. When at Nishiki Market, I can never pass up the fried fish cakes or takoyaki, both popular street snacks. Apart from fresh seafoods and snacks, the market is a great place to try various Kyoto specialties such as pickled vegetables and mackerel sushi. After indulging, hop over to the adjacent Teramachi shopping arcade for some kitchenware and Japanese condiment shopping.

Takoyaki with shiso salt, freshly made and piping hot

Fried fish cake with a piece of burdock root in the middle

BAKE, a cheese tart heaven that’s a must visit whichever city I go to in Japan

How many is too many? With a creamy filling that was still warm, these BAKE cheese tarts were easily polished off

2 p.m. Visit Kiyomizu-dera & make a short frappe stop at Ninenzaka Starbucks

Go to Starbucks… in Kyoto? Trust me on this one, I seldom get Starbucks coffee when I’m traveling because like many coffee lovers, I want to experience local cafe culture. But the Ninenzaka Starbucks is worth visiting in Kyoto because it’s a great way to see the interiors of a machiya, a traditional Japanese wooden house. I mean, where else can you have matcha frappuccino in communal tatami-style seating? If that’s not enough, there’s even a charming Japanese rock garden to appreciate as your barista makes your coffee. Cheers Kyoto, you even do Starbucks in style.

Right by Ninenzaka, you’ll find the world’s first tatami-style Starbucks housed in a gorgeous machiya

Starbucks Ninenzaka also has a charming loren 暖簾, a traditional fabric divider for doorways

Uniquely set up, Starbucks Ninenzaka does tatami seating so you can take off your shoes and lounge in a traditional Japanese style

Matcha cake, matcha frappuccino, and cherry garcia chocolate chip latte (I was secretly hoping to find a sakura blossom one)

Just a casual beautiful rock garden in Starbucks

Starbucks is located right by the famed cobblestone alleyways, Sannenzaka & Ninenzaka 三年坂二年坂. Full of traditional Japanese omiyage stores, the area is great to visit rain or shine. Of course, make sure to hike up the adjacent steps leading up to Kiyomizu-dera if you want to step out onto the temple’s wooden stage for a Kyoto city view. *Note that Kiyomizu-dera’s main hall is going under construction until 2020.

5 p.m. Afternoon reading at Keibunsha, one of the world’s top ten bookstores

Trek to Keibunsha 恵文社 to see a quieter side of Kyoto and wind-down with some afternoon reading. Located in Kyoto’s Ichijoji neighborhood, Keibunsha was selected as one of the ‘World’s top 10 bookstores’ by the Guardian. While not the most glamorous, there is something very charming and authentic about Keibunsha’s old-school atmosphere. Books are categorized by themes and curated lifestyle goods that compliment Keibunsha’s books also have their own section.

Keibunsha Ichijoji

Take a stroll from the station to Keibunsha–you’ll pass by a lovely creek in Ichijoji and see a much quieter side of Kyoto

8 p.m. Wagyu time at Hafuu Honten, a butcher-shop turned restaurant

Marbled wagyu steak with a glass of red wine served in an open Kyoto kitchen–it doesn’t get any better than this. Hafuu Honten used to be a butcher shop that has since transformed into a cozy restaurant offering amazing cuts of wagyu steak. Opt for the ‘Original Dinner Course’ (10,000yen), which includes lightly roasted beef, seasoned brisket, and wagyu sirloin steak. It’s  such a feast for the eyes to see the pieces of marbled beef being grilled and served. Ask a staff for Hafuu’s special beef cutlet sandwich for takeout after your meal–no such thing as too much wagyu.

Lightly roasted beef served with three different condiments for dipping

Colorful Octopus Confit (this is part of the ‘Hafuu Course’ which is a little lighter on the meat with more seafood as part of the course)

Thinly sliced beef brisket

As you sit at the bar, you can watch and listen to the chef grill the pieces of wagyu

Buttery and tender Wagyu Fillet Steak with crispy slices of garlic on top

Steak set with rice, miso soup and tsukemono (you can also opt for fresh bread)

Peach ice cream with creme brûlée

eatprayjade x.


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  2. Great post! I’ll have to remember some of these places for my next visit. I loved Kyoto for its delicious food. Looking at your photos is making me hungry! 🙂

    • definitely, so glad you enjoyed it. Kyoto has so much food to offer, every time I visit I try new things still!

  3. Oh this is such a lovely post, great pictures as well! Thank you for sharing your adventure with us 🙂

  4. Pingback: 夏 in Kyoto: Hotel Anteroom and Cafe Hunting | eatprayjade

  5. Oh my. It reminds me. It’s that time of the year when Kyoto is the place to go during autumn.
    The one that whet my appetite is the fish cake. And I would love to find a tea house that offers that same ten-minute samplings. Impressive that you manage to find delectables on places you visit.

    • Fall foliage in Japan is just one of a kind. All the more reason to visit a tea house this time of the year! 🙂

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    • I’m so glad you like it, hope it’ll help with your March planning! By that time, the cherry blossoms will be stunning so definitely take a stroll through Philosopher’s Path as well 🙂

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