Kyoto, beautiful down to its toes, has hilltop temples–Buddhist, Shinto–and shrines scattered throughout, but the real charm beyond these relics to a time when faith trumped science, is the city itself. Having escaped the bombings during the past war, it is filled with alleyways, canals, and pre-war architectural gems.
You get to wander.
There is an old Kyoto.
The city, sister to Boston, (separated at birth) due to its many (75) universities, shares its sibling’s youthful vibe and obeisance to the past. Only here it’s the previously mentioned T & S (temples & shrines) while back home it’s a commitment to a suspicion of outsiders. The embrace of past and future, which suggests a contradiction, is actually what makes both cities so complex.
Anyhow, yesterday, on the routine, four hour jaunt through the swelter, it was a visit to a bazillion year old rice cracker shop where a curmudgeon deigned to take payment for the brown, sugary, salty snack, followed by a stop at a woodblock print shop selling fun prints from the 1860s, and a pop-in to an indigo studio where the sweet, old artisan showed us his clothing that he touched with his purple fingers.
Lunch was at Honke Owariya, one of Kyoto’s oldest soba restaurants. Wonderfully impossible to find. For $17, we’re talking a bowl of the freshest made noodles topped with a vinegary soy and dipped into a creamy yam broth. Cold, of course. The noodles had the power to make the customer happy.
Pre-game from Takeshimaya at the house: Tiny tomatoes bursting with flavor. The size of peas. And grilled chicken washed in soy. Beer, shochu, a nap, and it was time to head out.
This isn’t anything like Tokyo nightlife: Just alleys, small crowds, tiny bars and restaurants.
A friend set us up at Yamashita. An amazing 14 seater, plus a room upstairs, it’s a lively neighborhood place with high-end hamo (conger eel) and all sorts of regional food. We had the hamo three ways: Steamed, boiled, and grilled. Each was flat out amazing, with the boiled, dipped in ponzu, the most flavorful. A basket of matsutake kept staring at me, so I bought one of the mushrooms and we ate that grilled with lime and salt.
The folks on other stools joked and talked with us throughout the night.
As the evening wound down, the cooks and chef drank drafts.