Kyoto (Day 2) – JD Kai Food Tasting Tour

Having begun our stay in Kyoto with a bike tour to some of the major sights, we thought it only natural that we spend the next day on a food tour to experience some of the local gastronomy.  We found the JD Kai Food Tasting Tour on Tripadvisor and booked it well in advance — and after the itinerary snafu of the day before, we were careful to check and double-check the itinerary.

The food tour didn’t start until 10:30am, so we made a pre-tour breakfast stop at an Italian coffee shop in the train station. 

DSC_2884
Hot chocolate and croissant

We arrived punctually at 10:30 and met our guide, Jason (a gregarious blond guy from Milwaukee who has been living in Japan for the past 11 years) and waited for the rest of the group to show up.  We waited, and waited . . . and waited.  An hour later, a harried looking mother and teenage daughter emerged from the train apologizing profusely for the delay — apparently a third member of their party had taken ill that morning.  (Interestingly, given our own history of delays to food tours, Amanda and I were both remarkably charitable to these women — hooray for lessons in patience!)

Jason gave us a quick introductory spiel and then marched us into the street and around the corner to a small shop where a little old lady sold fish cakes with various types of filling.  He taught us how to order in Japanese, and the proprietress kindly pretended to understand as she filled our orders based on what she’d heard Jason instructing us to say.

DSC_2892
DSC_2890
I tried two of these: one filled with bits of pink ginger,
another with some type of crunch root in the middle

Leaving the fish cake shop behind, Jason directed us to a vast covered gallery lined with shops and crowded with shoppers and trucks alike (vehicles were permitted until noon).

DSC_2885

DSC_2886

Inside, we headed first to a shop that sold little pastries filled with goodness custard or bean paste (of the red or white variety). 

DSC_2893
 
DSC_2895
Think of making two muffin-halves separately, then putting the filling on one when it’s
half-way cooked, and then plopping the other half on top to finish cooking.
DSC_2894
I tried a custard-filled pastry and a white-bean-filled pastry.  Delicious!
 
Next stop:  the butcher!  We didn’t come here for the meat; instead, we ordered some croquettes.  I had one filled with curry pork, another filled with sweet squash.
 
DSC_2896
 
DSC_2899
 
Jason explained as we went that he had built relationships with each of these shopkeepers over the past ten years.  He was clearly well-beloved by all of them, teasing them and asking about their families or fortunes as he went.  He claimed he stood out because of his sandy hair and blue eyes, but I think he’d have been universally popular anyway because of his cheerful gregarious personality.
 
We left the butcher shop and entered another, narrower shopping gallery.  Apparently this had once been an uncovered alley containing most of the town’s food stalls, but efforts to modernize and westernize had lead to an influx of clothing shops (and an exodus of shoppers).  Still, there were a handful of venerable, family-run businesses still keeping shop here.
 
Untitled

We started with a flowers-and-pickles shop that had been run by the same family for 14 generations (they started with flowers; pickles were added by the grandfather of the current shopkeeper).  The colors on both sides of the shop were gorgeous.

DSC_2902
That’s Jason, our guide.
DSC_2910
 
DSC_2904
 
DSC_2903
Our first assortment of pickles included beans, watermelon, something cucumbery,
and something else (maybe cabbage?).  They were all pretty good.
DSC_2905
After we’d eaten the pickles and were about to leave, the family started bringing out more things
for us to try.  I don’t remember what this was, I just remember it was like a gelatinous broth.
DSC_2906
Pickled Asian plums — at once the saltiest and sourest things I’ve probably ever eaten
DSC_2907
Apparently you’re supposed to eat the plums with rice. 
Only they didn’t bring out the rice until after I’d eaten the plum.
photo 5
Washing away the plum trauma with a cup of barley tea.

Leaving the flowers and pickles behind, we moved on to the freshwater fish shop.  Because Kyoto is land-locked, it relied on freshwater fish and eel instead of seafood.  Freshwater eel is a particular delicacy, so we had a bit of eel wrapped in eggs that were not cooked quite enough for my taste.

DSC_2911

DSC_2914

DSC_2913
Freshwater eel wrapped in egg.  Didn’t love it.

Thinking we had left the odd fishes behind, we entered this little delicatessen and were seated at a table in the back room on which sat trays with bowls full of delicacies.

DSC_2924
You can’t read it in the photo, but the sign says the shop was established in the mid-1800s.
DSC_2916

DSC_2917
DSC_2922
Yep, you saw right.  Eyeballs.
photo 1
Where the tail went, the head went too.
It was actually really good.  I just can’t get over the eyeballs.

Next stop:  the dashi shop.  Dashi is the kelp and fish stock that is the foundational ingredient for most Japanese cuisine.  This guy sells all the ingredients for dashi.  We inspected the kelp, handled the dried fish (you’d have thought it was petrified wood), and sampled the delicate fish shavings that are used in making the dashi.

DSC_2925
photo 2
Giant dried kelp
DSC_2927
Dried fish
 
 
DSC_2928
 
Leaving the dashi man behind, we made our way to an untidy seafood shop a few stalls down.  Here we were greeted by an ancient fish-seller woman and her daughter, who handed us plates of raw fish (it’s not “sushi” because there’s no rice).
 
 
DSC_2930
DSC_2932
 
Then, as had happened in the flowers-and-pickles shop, the woman started coming out with more delightful treats for us to try.  And by “delightful treats” I mean tiny dried fish with eyeballs.
 
DSC_2934
 
DSC_2935
 
Last stop on the tour was an ancient tea shop filled with rustic bins of tea (lined with tin to preserve the tea) and some glutinous sweets.  We learned about the different kinds of tea in Japan and how they’re made. 
 
DSC_2936
 
DSC_2937
Those are all the tea boxes
DSC_2940
Note the flattened shape of the tea-pot.
 
DSC_2938

That was the end of the tour.  Jason answered a few more questions as he walked us back to the train stop and we all headed our various ways.  What a great way to learn more about the food and food culture of Japan!



One comment

  1. Hi, I was just doing some research to put together my own blog post about this tour as I did it two weeks ago and had forgotten some of the details. I just want to say how awesome your post and pictures are and hope you like the tour as much as we did – looks like you did!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: