Kyoto Cuisine: The Delicate Flavors of Traditional Japan

  • 3 min read
Kyoto Cuisine: The Delicate Flavors of Traditional Japan

As the former capital of Japan, Kyoto was the country’s cultural center for several centuries. Even though Kyoto is far from the sea, the money flowing into the city meant that ample time and resources were spent on making the available foods as delicious as possible. What emerged was the “delicate taste” that Kyoto cuisine is known for and the new food preparation techniques used to highlight the
 natural flavors and aromas of the local ingredients. 

The best way to get a taste of Kyoto is to experience "kaiseki ryori" at Japanese ryotei restaurants, kaiseki restaurants, or ryokan that feature it for their dinner courses. Kaiseki ryori is a style of cuisine based on foods used in cha-no-yu, the art encompassing the aesthetics, techniques, and thinking related to the Japanese tea ceremony. It is a course meal where items are served one at a time and planned according to the seasons and other cultural events.

This article highlights ingredients and dishes commonly served as part of kaiseki ryori.


Kyoto Cuisine: The Delicate Flavors of Traditional Japan

Kyoto Vegetable Dishes (“Kyo-yasai”)

Shogoin kabu (turnip)

Turnips are used in salads and other simmered dishes in combination with other vegetables or meats. They are also used to make a type of “Kyo-tsukemono” called senmai-zuke.

Mizuna (Japanese mustard greens)

Mizuna is a leafy vegetable with a crunchy texture used in salads, as a topping, and in hot pots.

Shiso (Perilla leaf)

Shiso, or perilla leaf, is commonly served as a popular type of tempura. The mint-like taste of the leaf with the crunchy deep-fried exterior creates a very unique taste. The ingredient is also included in some matcha (green tea) blends specific to Kyoto.


Kyoto Cuisine: The Delicate Flavors of Traditional Japan

Kyoto Pickles (“Kyo-tsukemono”)


Senmai-zuke are pickles made from thinly-sliced shogoin kabu turnip, which is pickled with salt and then seasoned. They are white and feature a crunchy and sharp taste.


Shiba-zuke are thinly-sliced eggplant and shiso leaves pickled in salt. They are bright purple in color and are commonly used as a palate cleanser during meals to enhance the taste of the main dishes.

Cucumber asazuke

One of the most common tsukemono throughout Japan, cucumber asazuke or “morning cucumber pickles” are also regularly featured in Kyoto cuisine.


Obanzai are everyday dishes of the region, with at least half of the ingredients locally sourced from Kyoto. They are best known for their delicately balanced flavors.


Imobo is a dish made of dried cod called “bodara” stewed with a kind of potato called “ebi imo”.


Kinpira is a dish featuring chopped burdock root and carrots cooked in soy sauce and sugar.


Dashimaki-tamago is a Japanese-style rolled omelet. It is served in many regions of Japan, but the ones in Kyoto are known for having an especially delicate taste. 

Main Course: Sukiyaki with Tofu

A typical main dish at a Kyoto ryokan is nabemono (a hot pot) with tofu, one of the most indispensable ingredients of Kyoto cuisine. Other common hot pot ingredients include pork, lettuce, mushrooms, cabbage, green onions, and carrots.


Kyoto Cuisine: The Delicate Flavors of Traditional Japan


Desserts served as part of kaiseki ryori usually are light and served alongside Japanese tea. Some typical examples include sliced fruit or a light parfait flavored with green tea. Yatsuhashi, dumpling-like confections made with rice flour, sugar, and bean paste, are commonly bought as souvenirs to take home and come in many flavors including green tea, chocolate, strawberry, cinnamon, and others.

Everyone should visit Kyoto at least once, and enjoy the local cuisine as part of the experience!


About the Author: 

Jessica Craven

Jessica Craven

Jessica Craven is a writer, artist, and designer passionate about introducing aspects of Japanese culture to English-speaking audiences. Previously, she studied Japanese traditional art forms and art history at Akita International University, worked in art museums and galleries in the United States, and returned to Japan to work in Saitama for five years on the JET Program. She is fascinated by how traditional Japanese art forms, like tea ceremony, are closely related to philosophy and health. She currently lives in Tokyo, where she is continuing her writing career. 

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