Obanzai Ryori – My introduction to Kyoto’s home-style cooking

Japanese cooking is a vast universe, way beyond the sushi, sashimi and ramen that we know of. (Read: Going beyond sushi: Eating my way through Japan). While every region has different styles of cooking, the food and cooking style varies within regions too, case in point the three cuisines of Kyoto – Kaiseki (the cuisine that invovles different cooking techniques and has evolved from the tea ceremony culture), Shojin ryori (the no meat, no onion-garlic cooking of the Buddhist monks) and Obanzai ryori (the simple home-style cooking of Kyoto). While the three styles differ from each other, they have a few things in common – using local and seasonal produce, minimal ingredients and simple flavours.

My introduction to Obanzai style of cooking happened at a local’s home in Kyoto, an experience I booked through Traveling Spoon. We drove through the Kamigamo river to reach our host Keiko Morita’s house in Koyama Kamigamo on the outskirts of Kyoto where she lives with her parents.

Kamigamo River, Kyoto

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Kyoto – Visiting Sake museum and going broke at a karaoke bar in Fushimi

Reading travel blogs and travel stories, I often wonder what happens to those unexpected experiences that are not so great, not so perfect and at times leave you broke. I understand that it’s not advisable to share horror travel stories and they might scare the readers off, but they’re still stories worth sharing. A few months ago I remember reading one such story on Shivya Nath’s blog about getting mugged by a cabbie in San Jose. She has written an entire post on the solo travel mishaps. While my story isn’t scary at all (also because Japan is one of the safest countries to travel to), it’s an experience that was definitely not welcomed by my co-traveller and me. However, now we laugh at that particular memory.

Last year I took a 10 day trip to Japan with a friend. We spent the last 4 days of the trip in Kyoto and apart from visiting shrines and temples, the Gekkeikan Okura Sake museum in the Fushimi Ward was on the top of my list along with the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine.

ALSO READ: 7 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO PLAN YOUR JAPAN TRIP

Fushimi, Kyoto

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7 things you need to know to plan your Japan trip

Last year I travelled to Japan and I still wonder what made me pick such a difficult country for my first international trip. Difficult not because of food (I love Japanese food), difficult because the communication there isn’t easy. I got some help from friends as I was planning the trip but most of the stuff I learned while I was there. In the past few months a few friends and acquaintances reached out to me asking questions about my Japan trip. So here’s a list of QnA that I have created based on those questions. It’s purely based on my experience and research. I was in Japan for 10 days and travelled to Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto. There were a lot of things I wish I knew before hand, but then you always learn from your mistakes. I hope these questions help you in planning your trip.

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Kyoto in 20 Pictures

I spent 3 nights and 4 days in Kyoto and checked quite a few things off my list, but still feel I could’ve spend more days roaming and cycling around this beautiful city. Here’s my Kyoto journey in 20 pictures.

House of Geisha in Gion. Kyoto's Geisha District

House of Geisha in Gion. Kyoto’s Geisha District

There was haunting silence when we entered Gion, Kyoto‘s Geisha district in the evening. The streets were dark with tourists stealthily moving around with their cameras on the ready. We were in Hanami-koji street, the most popular area of Gion, lined with traditional wooden machiya merchant houses. According to http://www.japan-guide.com/, due to the fact that property taxes were formerly based upon street frontage, the houses were built with narrow facades only five to six meters wide, but extend up to twenty meters in from the street. Continue reading

Going Beyond Sushi – Eating My Way Through Japan

“Are you going to Japan? You’ll only get sushi there and it’s really bad”, that was (thankfully) the only cringe worthy “tip” I received just a few days prior to my Japan trip. Thanks to my exposure to Japanese cuisine and Matt Goulding’s Rice, Noodle, Fish – Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture guiding me, I was all set to eat all the sushi and ramen that Japan had to offer. But, what I hadn’t anticipated was that I wouldn’t be repeating a single meal.

Sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

Sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo

I don’t remember exactly when my interest in Japanese cuisine started shaping up; it could be that first taste of sushi with a hit of wasabi eaten at a Mumbai restaurant. Yes, it wasn’t half as good as what I finally ate in Tokyo, but it was still a revelation that something so simple can be so satisfying for the soul. The interest bloomed into a full-fledged love for the culture and food when I read A Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami. The tiny bars where Tsukiko and Sensei would meet were mapped in my brain and I would envisage myself sitting in one, emptying glass after glass of sake with pickles. Continue reading