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Monday, June 15, 2015

Kyoto Ramen Street, Nishiki Market and Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan

If there's one place guaranteed to instil instant calm, it's the bamboo forest at Arashiyama in Kyoto. The dense forest of bamboo soars so far up it almost obscures your view of the sky. Each bamboo stalk can surge to a height of up to 35 metres high making even the tallest person feel small and awe-struck.

Japan map of our trip from Kanazawa to Kyoto

Our next leg on our Japan trip would be Kyoto, a 3-hour shinkansen ride from Kanazawa. Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan, is also known as the City of Ten Thousand Shrines.

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Taking a selfie inside Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Mandatory selfie inside the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine

We headed straight to one of the biggest shrines of them all, Fushimi Inari Shrine famous for its trail of vermilion gates that climb up the sacred Mount Inari.

Outside view of the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Outside view of the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine

Inari is the Shinto god of rice as well as the patron of business. Individuals and companies donate money to construct a gate which will be inscribed with their name and date of donation. Small gates are said to start at AU$4,000 with large gates costing over AU$100,000.

Neverending gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
The seemingly never-ending gates

Walking inside the tunnel of gates is quite a surreal experience, a sense of beauty in its repetition and reassurance in its strength.

Locals in kimonos taking photos at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Locals in kimonos

Needless to say, the place is usually swarming with tourists so moments when the tunnels are empty are brief and fleeting. We didn't fare too badly mid-afternoon, but it would be worth visiting in the very early morning or late evening for maximum tranquility.

Inscriptions on the gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto, Japan
Inscriptions on the gates

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

Bamboo forest at Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Dwarfed by the bamboo forest

We headed straight from Fushimi Inari to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This would be my third visit to this forest but it still continues to amaze with its silent beauty.

Bamboo forest at Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Bamboo trees

It was still weather today, but on previous visits, strong winds cause the bamboo stalks to bend and knock together, creating a musical bamboo chime that is pretty magical. And it's hard not to picture that fight scene from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as you wander through.

Bamboo shoots in the bamboo grove at Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan
Bamboo shoots soaring skyward

This time we spied young bamboo shoots, aubergine in hue, that were pushing their way up toward to the forest canopy.

Chozuya water pavilion at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan
Chozuya water pavilion with ladles for Shinto worshipper purification

Ema wooden plaques with wishes at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan
Ema wooden plaques for Shinto worshippers to record their prayers or wishes

Tourists on a jinrikisha Japanese rickshaw at Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto, Japan
Tourists onboard a jinrikisha Japanese rickshaw

We walked along the path instead of taking a rickshaw, but we were super impressed by the athletic strength of the running drivers!

Green tea ice cream with bracken starch dumplings at Arashiyama station, Kyoto, Japan
Soft warabikko 400 yen / AU$4.40
Green tea ice cream on bracken starch dumplings

Today's soft serve was all about green tea on cubes of bracken starch jelly - two desserts in one! The jelly was cool and chewy, dusted in kinako roasted soy bean flour and everything drizzled with a sweet brown sugar syrup.

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan
Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

The spectacular Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion is hard to eclipse when it comes to the bling factor. It's a breathtaking sight, especially when blue skies create a mirror reflection in the pond waters beneath.

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan
Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion

Like many temples in Japan, the Kinkakuji is a reconstruction, built in 1955 after the pavilion burnt down in a case of arson in 1950. It is said that the original was unlikely to have used as much gold leaf as this current version, but its photogenic qualities are difficult to dismiss.

Kitakata ramen at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Kitakata-style ramen

Food-wise we mostly ended up eating at Kyoto station. The Kyoto station building feels like a mini-city in itself, with fifteen stories enclosed in an impressive structure that includes a 60-metre high atrium.

On the tenth floor you'll find Kyoto Ramen Koji or Kyoto Ramen Street, a collection of eight distinct regional styles of ramen from around the country.

Bannai Shokudo vending machine at Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Menu vending machine at Bannai Shokudo

After examining the menus of each restaurant, we settled on Bannai Shokudo serving a Kitakata-style ramen of soy and salt soup with roast pork on top. We justified our decision on the fact we wouldn't be visiting the Fukushima region on this trip, but to be honest, we were mostly swayed by the promise of fatty roast pork!

Shy chefs at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Shy chefs in the kitchen

A seat at the counter gave us a birds eye view of all the action in the kitchen, even if the young chefs were a little shy and embarrassed about all the attention.

Ramen noodle baskets at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Baskets in boiling water for cooking ramen noodles

To say that these chefs worked hard would be an understatement. There wasn't a moment when these guys stopped and stood still. Every second involved a flurry of hands and practised efficiency.

Draining the ramen noodles at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Draining the water from the cooked ramen

Slicing the roast pork made in-house at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Slicing the roast pork made in-house daily

Watching them slice the strips of pork belly was the best TV we could hope for.

Ramen bowl assembly at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Ramen bowl assembly

Watching the chefs assemble a row of ramen bowls was like viewing a well choreographed ballet.

Roast pork Kitakata ramen at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Roast pork ramen 940 yen / AU$10.30

In a full restaurant, it only takes about four minutes for our ramen to arrive. The standard roast pork ramen is covered in a layer of fatty pork belly slices. The meat is so juicy, tender and succulent.

Scallion roast pork Kitakata ramen at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Scallion roast pork ramen 1040 yen / AU$11.40

For an extra 100 yen you can get a pile of finely shredded scallions on top, their peppery freshness helping to cut through the richness of the fatty pork.

Nitamago soy sauce eggs at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Nitamago soy sauce eggs 120 yen / AU$1.30

And you can't have ramen without a side order of nitamago or soy sauce eggs. The yolks are a deep orange in colour and satisfyingly sticky.

Thick handmade Kitakata-style ramen noodles at Bannai Shokudo, Kyoto Ramen Street inside Kyoto station, Japan
Thick handmade noodles

I'm a big fan of the noodles too, noticeably flat and thicker in width than the usual kind.

Henri Charpentier at Isetan

Mont blanc, millefeuille and strawberry shortcake from Henri Charpentier, Isetan at Kyoto station
Dessert party!

In the basement of the Kyoto station building is the food hall of the Isetan department store. It was tempting to buy one of everything there but we decided to focus on Henri Charpentier for that night's hotel room dessert party.

Mont blanc from Henri Charpentier, Isetan at Kyoto station
Mont Blanc from Henri Charpentier 594 yen / AU$6.50

The Japanese obsession with Mont Blanc, a chestnut cream cake, is one close to my heart. And, er, stomach. There are many variations on Mont Blanc but they almost always involve piped strands of whipped chestnut puree across the top. The Henri Charpentier version includes a sponge cake base and a core of whipped cream.

Strawberry shortcake from Henri Charpentier, Isetan at Kyoto station
Strawberry shortcake from Henri Charpentier 616 yen / AU$6.70

Japanese patisseries also worship the strawberry shortcake, another one of my favourite things. There's an exquisite simplicity about a light-as-air sponge cake combined with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. The Henri Charpentier sponge was impressively light and fluffy.

Millefeuille from Henri Charpentier, Isetan at Kyoto station
Millefeuille from Henri Charpentier 486 yen / AU$5.30

And we had to have a millefeuille too, assembled to order so the pastry doesn't get soggy from the layers of pastry cream. It made a delicious mess, as any good millefeuille should.

Menya Kanjin-do
(since closed)

Ikura salmon roe on kaisendon at Menya Kanjin-do at Porta Shopping Mall, Kyoto station
Glistening ikura salmon roe

We had dinner one night in the dining strip at Porta Shopping Mall alongside Kyoto station, although the place we ate at - Menya Kanjin-do - has closed in the six weeks since we visited.

Kaisendon with salmon, salmon roe and tuna belly at Menya Kanjin-do at Porta Shopping Mall, Kyoto station
Kaisen don with salmon, salmon roe and tuna belly 1400 yen / AU$15.40

We were gluttons for salmon roe throughout our Japan trip, seeking it greedily everywhere we went. Kaisen don, rice topped with an assortment of sashimi, is a budget way of getting a raw fish bonanza with enough carbs to keep you satiated for several hours.

Kaisendon with salmon, salmon roe, tuna belly, sea urchin and raw prawn at Menya Kanjin-do at Porta Shopping Mall, Kyoto station
Kaisen don with salmon, sea urchin, raw prawn, squid, freshwater eel, tuna belly and salmon roe 1600 yen / AU$17.60

A sit-down sashimi dinner for less than $20 is proof that Japan isn't half as expensive as many people mistakenly think. I went for the most expensive option that included raw sweet prawn, uni sea urchin roe and anago fresh water eel, and even that only cost about AU$17.60. It also came with a bowl of noodle soup that I struggled to finish.

Complimentary noodle soup at Menya Kanjin-do at Porta Shopping Mall, Kyoto station
Complimentary noodle soup

Nishiki Market

Vats of Kyoto-style pickles at Takakuraya, Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Vats of pickles at Takakuraya

We didn't have much time in Kyoto so we could only visit Nishiki Market on our final morning. The shops don't officially open until 9am but we stopped by at 8am hoping to find a few of them trading.

Early morning at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Early morning scene at 8am

Most shops were still setting up for the day, but it was a lovely behind-the-scenes view of the market as we watched it slowly come to life.

Shoppers at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Market shoppers

Nishiki Market runs for several blocks, covered by a pointed coloured glass awning that seems common to so many markets in Japan.

Glazing skewers of unagi eel at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Glazing skewers of unagi eel

We trawled up and down the street several times, admiring the hardworking shop keepers and everyone's pristine displays. There were hardly any tourists so early in the morning, allowing us to see the market primarily filled with locals doing their daily shopping.

Glazed unagi eel skewers at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Unagi glazed eel on skewers

French bulldogs at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
French bulldogs at the market

Fishmonger at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Fishmonger with a customer

Pickled daikon white radish at Takakuraya at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Pickled daikon white radish at Takakuraya

Stallkeeper at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Stallkeeper tidying his display

Cooking tamago at Miki Keiran at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Tamago production line at Miki Keiran

Watching this row of chefs making tamago was mesmerising. They worked non-stop: pouring batter, rolling and flipping omelettes with barely a word to each other.

Compressing the rolls of tamago at Miki Keiran at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Compressing the rolls of dashimaki tamago

Soy milk doughnuts at Konnyamonja at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Soy milk doughnuts at Konnyamonja

Our breakfast treat was soy milk doughnuts from the Konnyamonja stall.

Soy milk doughnuts in the deep fryer at Konnyamonja at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Soy milk doughnuts in the deep fryer

We could smell these babies before we could even see them. Watching them march through the deep fryer and then up the conveyor belt was mouthwatering.

Cooked soy milk doughnuts at Konnyamonja at Nishiki Market, Kyoto
Cooked soy milk doughnuts making their way up the conveyor belt

A bag of ten mini doughnuts for AU$3.30 was our bargain of the day. The batter was a little sweet so you didn't need any dusting of sugar, and they were so hot and fluffy from the fryer, they warmed you from the inside out. A perfect start to the day.

Nishiki Market, Kyoto

>> Read the next Japan 2015 post: Nara deer and Johnny's Fried Chicken
<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate Tokyo

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove 右京区嵐山
Ogurayama, Saga, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 616-8383
Nearest JR station: Saga Arashiyama (10 min walk)
Free - open 24 hours

Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社
68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, Japan 612-0882
Tel: +81 (075) 641 7331
Nearest JR station: Inari (3 min walk)
Free - open 24 hours

Henri Charpentier at JR Kyoto Isetan
Higashi-Shiokoji Shiokoji-Sagaru Karasuma Street, Shimogyou-ku, Kyoto, Japan 600-8555
Tel: +81 (075)352 1111
Open daily 10am-8pm

Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion 金閣寺
1 Kinkakujicho, Kita Ward, Kyoto, Japan 603-8361
Tel: +81 (75) 461 0013
Nearest JR station: Kyoto then a 40min bus ride on Kyoto City Bus 101 or 205
Open daily 9am-5pm

Kyoto Ramen Koji 京都拉麺小路
Level 10, Kyoto Station Building, Higashi Shiokoji-cho, Karasuma-dori, Shiokoji sagaru, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, Japan 600-8175
Tel: +81 (075) 361 4401
Open daily 11am-10pm

Menya Kanjin-do (now closed) かんじん堂
Level B1, Porta Shopping Mall, Kyoto Station

Nishiki Market 錦市場
Nishiki-dori, 596 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, Japan 604-8054
Open daily 9am-6pm (some stores close Wednesday or Sunday)
19 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/15/2015 02:27:00 am


  • At 6/15/2015 7:40 am, Anonymous John | heneedsfood said…

    Those French bulldogs look a little disturbing. I love how you said "today's soft serve was all about…" - because it was a daily activity, right?

    Was chatting to a friend about the bamboo forest the other day. It sounds like early morning is the way to go, if you want to see it before all the hoards arrive. What a magical place!

  • At 6/15/2015 9:02 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    ooh donuts look so fluffeh and oh man i die i heart those strawberry shortcakes!

  • At 6/15/2015 9:27 am, Anonymous Monique@The Urban Mum said…

    What a magnificent post...I adore your images and detail...I am actually sitting at the computer this morning to plan our 2nd trip to Kyoto this December (we visited in January and loved it so much..). Our time in Kyoto was too short so for the next visit I am determined to enjoy more the region has to offer...the Bamboo Forest is top of the list....x

  • At 6/15/2015 9:41 am, Anonymous Francesca said…

    What a beautiful and tempting post. I want to go back to Japan.

  • At 6/15/2015 11:02 am, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    One of the things I want to do is go to yokohama and visit the ramen museum there :D I only found out about it when I came home after being in Japan for 6 months. Seems like I need to also put ramen st in kyoto station up there too!

  • At 6/15/2015 3:12 pm, Blogger Jacq said…

    Matcha soft serve with kinako warabi mochi sounds amazing! I wish I'd visited the bamboo forest when I was last in Kyoto - but I've put on my list for my next trip

  • At 6/15/2015 9:54 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Wow Helen. I was never really interested in Japan before I started reading and seeing your photos.

  • At 6/16/2015 12:08 am, Blogger Annie said…

    so good to hear there's a ramen street in Kyoto. thanks for posting this up! :)

  • At 6/16/2015 8:42 am, Anonymous Racy_staci said…

    Oh my, the roast pork was so good!

  • At 6/16/2015 5:07 pm, Anonymous Martine @ Chompchomp said…

    I think I would end up going matcha-mad in Japan, its so hard to find matcha flavoured anything in Perth so I could see myself going waay overboard I love the look of the bamboo forest, it seems so magical but you would want to get there before the masses to appreciate it

  • At 6/16/2015 11:29 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Mont Blanc!! Chestnut cream is the besssstest :9 I love your pics of the forest by the way!

  • At 6/17/2015 5:18 pm, Anonymous Amanda@ChewTown said…

    We really did have much of the same experience in japan, but I definitely saw a lot less and did it at a much slower pace than you. It was only a few weeks ago but reading your post takes me back to all of those incredible places!

  • At 6/17/2015 11:57 pm, Blogger Vivian - vxdollface said…

    Oh man I miss Japan! Those kimonos are gorgeous, I love how they're always so perfect looking. mmm so many things I want to eat again!

  • At 6/18/2015 7:43 am, Blogger Roo Food said…

    Japan has been on my list for a long timem. You are inspiring me to get there faster!!!! the bamboo forest looks gorgeous

  • At 6/18/2015 8:34 pm, Anonymous Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said…

    I could spend my life peacefully in a bamboo forest. When I lived in Florida I had a 5-acre bamboo garden and I loved to hear those big bamboo clacking together in the wind. It's so relaxing.

    Another wonderful post that makes me want to travel.

  • At 6/19/2015 5:58 pm, Anonymous Shellie - Iron Chef Shellie said…

    Love love love, oh who I love Japan! Great snap with the selfie stick at Fushimi Inari! x

  • At 6/20/2015 11:04 am, Blogger Sarah said…

    Love that roast pork ramen - just noodles and pork, no messing about.

    PS I'm a fan of Henri Charpentier too - my brother and parents always bring me some cakes or biscuits back when they visit Japan!

    xox Sarah

  • At 6/28/2015 1:02 am, Anonymous Paul said…

    This post takes me right back to Kyoto. Great photos from the Market's especially. I miss all those amazing foods!

  • At 7/04/2015 10:27 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    This is just between us girls, but I call the rickshaw drivers "bon bon" boys. As they are awesome bon bons and can shake em ;P


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