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Veg Out: Kyoto

March 25, 2012

“Toyko is fast,” Kozue said. “Kyoto is slow.” She was right.

While we are on the subject, I should note that many things are slow when compared to a bullet train ride that stretches telephone poles Salvador Dali-style.

But clearly Kyoto was slow long before we had the Shinkansen for reference. I felt it in my resting heartbeat. Have you heard of shinobi-cha? Kozue told me about that, too. It’s a way of brewing tea with ice as it melts. Drip, drop, pour, pause. This gentleman drinks shinobi-cha tea when he needs to set aside about 3 hours to concentrate on a good book, or a good conversation.

Drip, drop, pour, pause. That is how Kyoto felt. Why? Maybe Kozue just has excellent powers of suggestion. Or maybe it was …

Holy Golden Temple, Batman! Umm, yeah. So maybe it was the temples, each one still and quiet and beautiful, each one reminding me that people always have been, and always will be, puzzling out how to be alive.

Or maybe it was just a food coma. I can never rule out this cause, really.

Jules and I started each day with breakfast at the lovely Hotel Mume. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, breakfast in Tokyo required serious self-control. Breakfast in Kyoto required nothing but total surrender. Surrender to café au lait, to ginger jam, to carrot compote. To peeling layer after crisp, buttery layer off a croissant, and eating them one by one to make the whole thing last just a wee bit longer.

I cannot say enough about this hotel. “Attention to detail”  does not begin to describe it.
Just look at their silverware, for crying out loud.

Also, the staff treated us with such kindness that we almost did not know how to respond. Upon arrival, I mentioned that the music they were playing in the lobby (Beatles, Paul Simon) made me happy. The next day, those CDs magically appeared in our room next to the stereo.  Hisako, the hotel manager, basically did everything but walk us to the places we wanted to see. She knows the writer of the Time Out Kyoto guidebook. She would like you to know that (1) He is a vegetarian, and (2) His map of the Kyoto city center is upside-down. She has told him that it is rubbish.

Oh, and incidentally, in the bathroom of your room at Hotel Mume, there is a nearly sentient robot toilet that washes and dries your bottom for you. This is very difficult to leave. But leave you must.

Hisako recommended almost all of the restaurants we visited in Kyoto. For our first lunch, she pointed us to the café at Mumokuteki, which is within walking distance of the hotel. “There will be lots of chic young ladies with strollers,” she said. She was right. And those ladies sure know how to choose a bowl of curry.

Later, she sent us on our way to dinner at a restaurant whose name I don’t remember. Perhaps this is because they brought me individually flash-fried foods on a stick until I told them to stop. See? Food coma. After Googling several different phrases (including “Bring me individually flash-fried foods on a stick until I say stop”), I still am not sure what the place is called. I have a blurry photo of their menu that says, “A kusikatu course of the Wabiya.”

Whatever the name, this restaurant brought two primary delights: (1) A small, flash-fried egg on a stick that melted instantaneously upon contact with the roof of my mouth, and (2) A sake-fueled debate with our friend Arai-san regarding the merits of PORTABLE nearly sentient robot toilets.

The next day, we ate soba noodles at Honke Owariya, which has been in business since 1465. 14 friggin’ 65, people! Most of their hot noodle broths are fish-based, but they kindly made mine vegetarian by using soba tea.

After that, we removed our shoes and donned slippers to explore the interior of Ninomaru Palace, which is inside of Nijo Castle. I was quite jealous of the school children on our tour, whose slippers were infinitely more adorable than my plain brown ones.

The palace’s “nightingale floors” emit a bird-like chirping noise with every step. They were constructed to protect occupants of the palace from sneak attacks. One might say that when trounced upon by a group of 8-year-olds, they squawk instead of chirp. Then again, NO ONE EXPECTS an army of Hello Kitty-clad children! Their chief weapons are surprise and rainbows! At any rate,  I wish I would have known about this ingenious method of fortification during my childhood. I would have installed a nightingale floor to protect my precious Cheetos from my brothers.

Next, we visited Nishiki Market,

and a half dozen piping-hot soy milk donuts visited my belly.
I have no idea how you make donuts with soy milk, but I’m very glad that someone does.

Here is a travel tip that you won’t find in Time Out Kyoto: If you are planning to eat a multicourse fucha ryori dinner in a private room inside of a Zen Buddhist temple, and wash it down with gold-leaf-infused sake, you might not want to spend your day eating croissants and soba noodles and soy milk donuts. And a bag of fried cherry tomatoes from Nishiki Market. And cocktail snacks and a glass of rosé at Hotel Mume’s happy hour.

I gravely underestimated how filling the delicate, elaborate food at Kanga-an would be. Just 20 minutes in, we were at Course #3, which included tempura flowers and plump green peas nestled in an edible basket made of seaweed tempura.
It seemed almost wrong to eat something so beautiful.
Almost.

I realize that stuffing myself in said manner probably was not very Zen.
I’m still looking for harmony, for balance.
Between belly and brain, between fast and slow.

Add it to the list of things that will take an eternity.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2012 7:59 pm

    Sounds fabulous! Kyoto has risen on my bucket list thanks to you.

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