There are certain stereotypes that linger about different cities in Japan. Osaka is known to be chaotic with friendly, outgoing locals. Tokyo is said to run like a well-oiled machine, but with people who are mere cogs in the machinery. And Kyoto is the birthplace of Japanese culture, with residents who seem to revel in that reputation.
I admit I have been to Kyoto very few times despite my travels around Japan, so I know very little about the true culture of the city. To be sure, it is deeply rich with ancient Japanese culture, but could this lovely city have other intriguing facets to its personality?
Kyoto’s Vegetarian Culture
In this case, it was the food culture of Kyoto that I would explore on this brief business trip. Meeting with my colleagues at Voyapon for day-long meetings, we worked hard and subsequently ate well to sustain our energy. One of my colleagues prefers not to eat meat, so the restaurants that were picked for us were those that a vegetarian (or near vegetarian) could feel comfortable eating in. Our first meal together was at Cafe Marble Bukkoji.
Housed in an elegant old machiya, Cafe Marble serves well-portioned meals that are a good fit for vegetarians or those who prefer to eat less meat.
Old and New
The combination of the traditional Japanese machiya setting with a modern Western cuisine gives Cafe Marble its decidedly Kyoto-esque ambience. My eyes were beginning to be opened to multifaceted personality of the ancient capital.
After work, we headed into lively Kawaramachi for dinner. Though to be honest, without foreign tourists, the neighborhood seems very subdued. Shooting photos in the empty streets, it almost felt like I was in Kyoto the movie set rather than Kyoto the city.
Our destination was Baitarusain, a modern looking izakaya with a young chef who is exploring the heights and depths of vegetarian cuisine. Baitarusain’s opening course is a set of vegetarian appetizers followed by a soup, and finally a box of vegetables prepared using a variety of methods shared with your tablemates. After the set, you are free to order any other dishes you’d like to try a la carte.
Hidden among the narrow alleys of Kawaramachi, this modern izakaya is known for its unique takes of vegetarian cuisine. As it is an izakaya, there is a good selection of spirits, both traditional Japanese sake and shochu as well as fine wines and beer.
We had one more meal together before we parted ways, this time at a little Italian owned restaurant called Pettirosso. The owner-chef of Pettirosso caters to both vegetarian and vegans, and can also make something for those who prefer a little meat as well. My colleagues and I tried out their selection of summer salads, lightly fried tempura, and incredible hand-pulled pasta.
This little restaurant is owned by an Italian gentleman who can whip up some amazingly delicious vegan and vegetarian fare, as well as some dishes with a little meat. Pettirosso makes great use of fresh ingredients including their own handmade pasta.
Japan is not known for being an easy country for vegans and vegetarians but when you find a vegetarian restaurant here, chances are it’s going to be a good one. Voyapon has some tips on how to survive a trip to Japan as a vegetarian and I do suggest you prepare yourself before you get here to ensure you have a great time here.