First decent Japanese lunch in Kyoto

After checking in at the New Miyako hotel and putting all our bags in our hotel room, we headed to Kyoto station to find something to eat for lunch. Since we were traveling in a group of three and there are just way too many different food options in Kyoto station, we were having some problems deciding on which restaurant to visit. In the end, we went to Take Zen, a traditional Japanese restaurant in the Kintetsu mall Miyakomichi (which I mentioned before over here).
 Kyoto lunch tempura sashimi fish cake simmered vegetables tofu skin

Because there was no English menu, I ordered a lunch set that they had shown in the outside show window with fake food models. For the two other lunch sets, I had to guess a bit, because I couldn't read the kanji, as I only learned hiragana and katakana during Japanese classes. I know the meaning of the Chinese characters, but it doesn't always have the same meaning in Japanese. So, I felt lucky that the lunch sets turned out okay. I tried to order lunch sets that were a bit different than mine - we could get a taste of everything if we share the food - and I succeeded.   

First lunch set

The first lunch set consisted of a round, lacquered bento box - filled with assorted tempura, salmon sashimi, tofu skin, egg rolls, simmered vegetables, and fish cake -, a bowl of rice with some black sesame seeds on top, a chawanmushi (steamed egg in the striped cup with lid), a bowl of miso soup (at the upper right of the picture, but cut off), a small dish with pickled radish, a dish with soy sauce for the sashimi, and a dish with dipping vinegar for the tempura.

Kyoto lunch set chawanmushi steamed egg rice tempura sashimi tofu skin simmered vegetables

 Second lunch set

The second lunch set consisted of half a crispy, grilled fish (I think mackerel?), 2 egg rolls, a small dish with pickled radish, a bowl of rice (under the pickled radish), a small dish with pickled okra, and a bowl of miso soup (not pictured).  

kyoto lunch grilled mackerel ginger ladies fingers okra rolled egg

Third lunch set

This was my lunch set and I ordered a square lacquered bento box with four compartments (shokado) - filled with salmon sashimi, tofu skin, assorted tempura, 3 nigiri sushi (salmon, tuna, and a white fish), 3 small maki rolls (cucumber and pickle), and a beautiful bowl with simmered vegetables and a cute, gradient pink, sakura shaped fish cake (which was also in the first lunch set).    

Kyoto lunch lacquered bento box lunch tempura sushi sashimi sushi nigiri simmered vegetables

Sadly, I didn't get a bowl of rice and a bowl of miso soup with my lunch set (maybe, because there is already rice in the sushi?). But instead, I got this large bowl of soba noodles in a fish stock.

kyoto lunch soba noodles

What do I think?

In Tokyo, I had already crossed ramen (Japanese noodles) and katsudon (fried pork cutlet covered with egg, simmered in sauce, and on top of rice) off my "Must try this food for the first time in Japan" list and it was nice that I got to try tempura, sushi, sashimi, soba noodles, and grilled fish, all at once too. But I found out why you can often only buy one kind of food at Japanese restaurants. Chefs like to just do one thing and specialize in it, until they can create a master piece. I am from the Netherlands and at the Japanese restaurants I go to in my country, you can order grilled meat, yakitori, unagi, noodles, sushi, and sashimi, all at the same place. In Japan, it is different and you go to an udon noodle restaurant, when you want to eat a bowl of udon, and if you are craving for a bowl of unagi-don, you need to go to a unagi restaurant. I discovered that there is a reason for that. 

For the prices I paid (I think around 1,500-2,000 yen per lunch set), the food wasn't that good. The nigiri sushi I got was smaller than the normal ones from sushi restaurants and the raw fish from the sushi and the sashimi wasn't extremely fresh too. The tofu skin (one of Kyoto's specialties) was soft and full of soy bean flavor, but I only got a small piece.

In the compartment with assorted tempura, there was a small fried shrimp, a slice of fried pumpkin, one small fried okra, and a piece of fried eggplant. The crust of the tempura wasn't super crunchy and I didn't find it very tasty (and I normally like fried food!). The bowl with soba noodles wasn't that impressive either, as soba noodles generally have a bland taste and a not too chewy texture. I tried it for the first time and I wasn't that convinced. 

These were some of the highlights: the bowl with excellent obanzai (traditional Kyoto home cooking) which consisted of a slice of bamboo shoot (one of Kyoto's specialties), a slice of radish, one green bean, a ball of yam, and fish cake, the small dish with pickled okra from the second lunch set (very tasty!), the egg rolls (soft and fluffy!), and the grilled fish (crispy skin and full of fish flavor).   

So, the conclusion is that I should just order sushi and sashimi at a sushi place, tempera at a tempura shop, and soba at a soba specialty shop. This restaurant was the best at making homey meals with grilled fish, pickled vegetables, tofu skin, and simmered dishes. The other food was okay, but not very impressive. I also learned that the most expensive dish on the menu isn't always the tastiest and best of value. I liked the first lunch set the most and if I remember it correctly, it was the least expensive. 

I tried to find some more information about this restaurant when I wrote this article several years later, but it seemed to have closed or moved in the meantime. You may not get to go to this restaurant, but I hope it can convince you to order something like this when you are in Kyoto.

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