Zen eats Kyoto


As much as i would love to share with you the tastes, the smells and the sounds of my trip to Japan.. i couldn’t find a teleportation booth for sale on Ebay. So instead i tried to recreate in pictures the different moods of my adventure. My best advice to you, go visit Kyoto Foodie for inspiration and book your plane ticket because this post will only scratch the surface. I guarantee you it’s worth every penny.

I wrote in my last post about the experience working at Kichisen. This post will focus on the rest of the trip. The adventure began when I met my good friend Marc of No Recipes in Osaka a day earlier. After some Okonomiyaki and wandering around Osaka Castle we took the bullet train to Kyoto. Lost in translation style.

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I have a blurry memory of our first evening in Kyoto, so i looked at the pictures hoping to find some clues. They were blurry as well. Not a good sign! Marc and I met up with Michael of Kyoto Foodie, and i don’t remember much after that expect we had some excellent local Wagyu beef, best i ever had, and what seems like a lot of shochu.

We ended up in at Asakura Sake bar where the owner/bartender/Michael Jackson fan let us sample a fantastic selection of unpasteurized, unfiltered local Sake which pretty much opened my eyes about sake. There was a smooth unpasteurized one with hints of melon we talked about for days. We finally got so hungry again we had to stop at a great ramen joint at some ungodly hours and finally say goodbye to Michael Jackson by the river (or was it Michael from Kyoto Foodie?). That’s all i remember. Hmm.

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The next day we went to see the Jidai Matsuri (Festival of the Ages) to clear up our heads. It’s a traditional festival enjoyed by people of all ages who participate in the parade dressed in authentic costumes representing various periods and characters in Japanese history. We didn’t stay for the parade but caught up early with the participants gathering in the park for some nice close-up shots. Look for some really nice photography in No recipes in the coming weeks.


Later, we met up with Alice and Jared of Eat Duck I must, a foodie couple, bloggers, and talented photographers from Chicago who happened to be in Kyoto at the same time and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the city together. After lunch we went to Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavillion), a Zen Buddhist temple covered with gold leaf and surrounded by beautiful gardens.


Our afternoon walk took us to Ryoanji, a Zen temple in northern Kyoto. The temple’s main attraction is its rock garden, the most famous of its kind in Japan. The Zen garden consist of nothing but rocks, moss and neatly raked gravel. The meaning of the garden’s arrangement is unknown and up to each visitor’s interpretation. So Alice just had to snap the picture.. Zen chef, in a Zen Temple sitting by the Zen garden. It doesn’t get more Zen than that. Except for the hangover..

At night we all went to see the crowded Fire festival in Kurama where the whole town was lit up with torches carried by children.

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We made it back to the city and ate at Torito. It’s by far the best yakitori place i ever been to, and was also recommended by Kyoto Foodie. Marc and Jared asked for the Japanese menu because we wanted to order the ‘not politically correct’ items like oritsukuri (chicken sashimi). Raw chicken liver and heart dipped in salt, sugar and sesame oil anyone? I know it’s hard to believe but it was incredibly good and everyone seem to have survived so far (guys, give me a call if you read this). The Torito special chicken Tsukune (a grilled chicken meatball on a skewers served with an egg yolk) was to die for.


On another day we went on the Philosopher’s Walk which follows a cherry-tree-lined canal in Kyoto, between Ginkaku-ji and Nyakuōji-jinja. The route is so-named because a well known philosopher is thought to have used it for daily meditation. It passes several temples. The monk on the picture above was rushing to a prayer. We sat and watched them chant Buddhist mantra to relax.

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Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa made a Sabazuchi (pickled mackerel sushi – Kyoto’s specialty) and packed it in bamboo leaves the day before for us to take to go. That was our lunch and it looked so good that a lady who was passing by nearly fell into the canal from staring at it. She came back later to ask us where we bought it…


We were walking around Nishiki-Koji Market in Kyoto were this little fishmonger caught my eye. She was leaning over a bucket full of live baby eels trying to catch one. She succeeded at first but she let the tiny fish escape on the floor and chased it for a while. She finally grabbed it and proudly show us her catch. I say  – she’s pretty damn gifted!

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We went to stay at a Ryokan for a night to try to recover from the beating Chef Tanigawa had given us. We were awaken at 5 am by a earthquake instead (true story!). A Ryokan is a type of traditional Japanese inn and most offer dinner and breakfast and usually promote themselves on the quality of their food. Meals consist of traditional Kaiseki cuisine, which features seasonal and regional specialties.

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On our last night in Kyoto, Michael offered to do a chicken Sukiyaki at his house. Marc went shopping and prepared the food while i stayed out of the way and happily snapped pictures instead.  Sukiyaki consists of meat (usually thinly sliced beef but it’s done with chicken in Kyoto), slowly cooked or simmered at the table, alongside vegetables and other ingredients, in a shallow iron pot in a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Before being eaten, the ingredients are usually dipped in a small bowl of raw eggs. It was great!

Afterward we picked up Chef Tanigawa at Kichisen and all met up with the lovely Miwa of Kyoto Foodie at the unfamous Sake Bar where we got pretty giddy a few nights earlier. Chef Tanigawa gave us gift bags loaded with goodies from Kichisen to take home, including a soup with magic properties…

No, i won’t tell you what those magic properties are. :)


A million thanks to Marc who made this trip happen and for being a great guide and translator. Who know, I might still be lost be in Japan if it wasn’t for him. Thanks also to Michael and Miwa of Kyoto Foodie for being the greatest Ambassadors known to Kyoto cuisine. All the recommendations we received from them have been stellar. And finally to Master Chef Yoshimi Tanigawa Of Kichisen for opening his doors to us and for  generously sharing a few of his secrets.

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  • http://www.worldfoodieguide.com Helen @ World Foodie Guide

    WOW! It’s a lovely lovely post, particularly as I’m going to Kyoto next Wednesday, so all this actually means something to me. I was really sad to miss that fire festival, it would have been amazing. I’ll be in Kyoto for 3 days and have so much planned! Thanks for sharing a wonderful experience…

  • http://www.mangotomato.blogspot.com Olga

    I just looked at photos: seems like a great trip. The food is spectacular, and I LOVE the photo of the little girl.

  • http://www.lafujimama.com Fuji Mama

    Oh I am SO jealous! You’ve got me missing Japan something terrible! And you ate oritsukuri? One of my favorites!!!

  • http://itsnotyouitsbrie.com Its Not You, it’s Brie

    your photos keep getting prettier! you’re going to have to do a food photo tutorial soon. pretty please?

  • http://www.alittlebitofchristo.blogspot.com doggybloggy

    what an absolutely fantastic trip – memories to last a lifetime I am sure.

  • http://vanillakitchen.blogspot.com dawn

    zenman in zen temple looking at zen garden. you are so cool.
    i know the food there is incredible, never had shochu (sp?).
    you are lucky zenman. delightful post (and your photos get better and better–pretty soon we need to get you a coffee table book deal).

  • http://eataduckimust.blogspot.com alice

    … i think i survived it. i want to blame another meal for my food poisoning. i harbor no bad feelings about it b/c i still am madly in love with japan =)

    btw, that picture of that monk, WOW! great post. some day we’ll get to posting about this part of our trip =)

  • http://saffronandblueberry.blogspot.com Hilda

    I agree with Fuji Mama, now I want to go back to Japan too, damn you! And that little fishmonger is too cute, really, it’s not legal to be that cute. Beautiful photos again.

  • http://www.ellesnewenglandkitchen.com/ Elle

    Stunningly beautiful, S! Love the photo of you–it’s like triple the Zen!

  • http://www.kalofagas.ca Peter

    This trip you took proves that some will go to “earth’s end” for food, superior food.

    I’m sure you’re still absorbing the whole experience.

  • http://staceysnacksonline.com Stacey Snacks

    What beautiful photos……it looks like Marc’s work?
    Thank you for taking us on that trip.
    That pic of you in the Zen garden is priceless, you should use it as your blog pic, as well as cookbook jacket!

  • http://manggy.blogspot.com Manggy

    I hate you, did you know that? :) Japan is amazing. I feel like everywhere travelers turn and take a snapshot, it always comes out a beautiful picture. (But then again it might be yours and Marc’s gifted hands!)
    Hope to see you when I’m in New York again!

  • zenchef

    Helen — You’re gonna have so much fun! Can’t wait to read about it.

    Olga — Thanks! I agree, the little girl is a Star!

    Fujimama — Oritsukuri was a revelation. So good!

    Kirstin — Photo-tutorial from me? :) I feel there are so much better photographers out there. In a few years maybe? hehe

    Doggy — Pretty special, indeed!

    Dawn — Coffee table cookbook? Are you trying to say my recipes are too complicated? :)

    Alice — Thank you, thank you. It was great meeting you! Hope you have recovered!

    Hilda — I knoww. Now i just want to go back!

    Elle — hehe.. triple Zen.

    Peter — Yup, it’s gonna take a while to let it all sink in.

    Stacey — Photos are mine but i’ll admit Marc taught me some pretty cool post-editing tricks.

    Manggy — Don’t hate me! hehe. Let me know when you’re in town!

  • http://eataduckimust.blogspot.com/ Jared

    great pictures telling a story as always. love your post. just wished we got to kyoto earlier for the jidai matsuri. nonetheless, we had a great time. i wish i can eat torito everynight. hopefully you can get an internship there, then we will come and visit you.

    btw, what is this cool post-editing tricks you speak of, i am intrigued.

  • Jason

    Long time reader – first time to leave a comment. I just wanted to say thank you for a great post. Everything looks amazing. You make me want to go!

  • http://www.chezus.com Chez Us

    Great write up – I love how it starts by not “remembering” – I like to blame that on jet-lag! We have been tossing around a trip to somewhere in Asia …. this is definitely mind provoking! Thank you!

  • http://cakeonthebrain.blogspot.com cakebrain

    It’s been so long since I visited Japan and everything looks so wonderful! It’s much different seeing it through a fellow foodie’s eyes!

  • http://www.pigpigscorner.com pigpigscorner

    I’m so jealous!

  • zenchef

    Jared — I meant to say photo-editing tips with lightroom. Your photography is great btw. You probably don’t need much touch-ups.

    Chez Us — Thanks! And i’m glad this post provided some inspiration.

    Cakebrain — Thanks!

    Piggie — Don’t be. Go!

  • http://www.stirthepots.com Jeremy

    Looks great, can I carry your bags next time?

  • http://foodhuntress.blogspot.com enrisa marie

    Wow. This is the Japan I didn’t see. You’re perfect for that place “Zen” Chef.

  • http://tavolini.blogspot.com Tavolini

    Wow–this is awesome! Great photos and great story–I love it! Don’t think I am brave enough for the oritsukuri but love hearing about it :)

  • http://zested.wordpress.com liz {zested}

    Nice photos!

  • http://kitchen-em.blogspot.com/ Kitchen M

    I visited the exact same temples you went in Kyoto except that it was pouring rain!
    I didn’t get to try the raw chicken liver and heart dipped in salt, sugar and sesame oil, but chicken sashimi was unbelievably good!