Kumbaya at Kokoraya

Folk cuisine in downtown Kyoto

By Bonson Lam    - 3 min read

Have you wondered where the local Kyoto-ites go for lunch and dinner, away from the tourists and get some homely comfort food? Well let's have lunch today with Akiko from the Kyoto Government office. In just 10 minutes' walk from City Hall, tucked away in an attic of an old machiya (Kyoto merchant town house), I can pretend to be at her grandmother's country kitchen. Actually, by the look of the old rotary dial telephone and the antique chest (tansu), maybe she did drop by the other day.

Upstairs in the attic is all Japanese-style tatami mat seating, and downstairs there are antique-looking low wooden tables and a nice view of the proceedings outside through the shutters. A very cosy affair with just the right mix of office ladies and smart, casually dressed people all looking very relaxed set against the earthy-toned walls and the dark wooden beams.

With a full business agenda in our party over lunch, we quickly settle for a set lunch menu. There is a light tofu starter, pickles for which Kyoto is famous, and a slice of pink grapefruit, cut the way my grandma would.

The highlight for me was the pumpkin in light tempura batter, which was ever so light and crispy with a sweet almost buttery melt-in-your-mouth taste… wow, I could have it again.

For mains there was grilled saba fish (mackerel) with miso paste, which has the right combination of sweet and nuttiness. Kyoto is known for miso and you could spend weeks tasting the different varieties here. Mackerel is rich in omega-3 fats and selenium, and is also a good source of vitamin B12, just in case your grandmother didn't tell you. Not that I was thinking about that as I delighted in the subtle taste of the mackerel sprinkled with a squeeze of lemon, and tried not to have all the miso paste in one go. The fish was accompanied by renkon (lotus root), carrots, onions and beans. Great value for 980 yen. I can imagine that the nearby university students will find out about this place pretty soon. You could try the a la carte menu as well, with potato salad starting from 290 yen. There are sliced onions available from 190 yen, but I can't imagine anyone eating just sliced onions for lunch.

Kokoraya prides itself for sourcing local produce and healthy, tasty meals that reflect the seasonal harvest. So if you aren't lucky enough to have family or a homestay in Kyoto, come to Kokoraya for some traditional home-style cuisine, without the crying babies or arguing with your father or brother on what television show to watch at dinner (there isn't a TV here, just tables full of local produce outside and a grandfather's clock that you are unlikely to hear amongst the quiet banter.)

And if you do eat too much, it is a pleasant walk back to the subway, or unfortunately for some, back to the office. On the way you can stroll the back lanes devoid of cars and quaint street stalls which operate off an old VW Combi-van. Akiko san, surely you have time for a coffee before the 2:30 meeting?

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Bonson Lam

Bonson Lam @bonson.lam

I knew my future was destined to be with Japan the moment I flew from Sydney to experience the atmospheric lane ways of Kyoto last century. From the skies above Sapporo to the old charm of Naha's alleyways, I have been enchanted by the beauty and variety on every island. I am humbled to have met many distinguished people in my role as Regional Partner, especially the national living treasures of Japan, such as the doll maker to the Imperial Family. From sushi cooking classes to Ninja training grounds I welcome your ideas on what you like from JapanTravel.com. Please visit us in Kyoto or Osaka and have some green tea or sake with us. 

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