Thursday, July 9, 2015

Summertime Chicken Hotpot in Kyoto

With our flight schedule to touch down only in early morning at Osaka airport, we didn't make any specific plan for lunch in Kyoto on our first day, for fear of the possibility of a flight delay. Nonetheless, I did have a specific restaurant in mind - I just figure we would just try my luck walking in if all things went well.

Toriyasa (鳥彌三) is a 227-year-old Kyoto restaurant specialized in Tori no Mizudaki, or essentially chicken hotpot, now already in its 8th generation owner at the beautiful street of Kiyamachi by the Kamo river. We arrived at Kyoto right on schedule so after quickly settling in at our hotel near Sanjo, we made a leisurely stroll towards the riverside area where the restaurant is located.

Summer is obviously not the best season for hotpots - especially when Kyoto is known for its hot and humid summers - but that means as it turned out they did have a table for us without a reservation. Still, I was a bit surprised - but heck, I got what I wanted. After taking off our shoes at the entrance, we were then led to the dining room on the second floor, sharing the space with another couple who has already started their meal at the table behind us. The building definitely showed its age with its narrow stairs, paper sliding doors and antique art pieces around - it's recognized as a national heritage treasure - but the space was very very comfortable, and the through the window next to our table, we could enjoy the breathtaking view of the Kamo river while we eat.

Their menu was straight forward - the same Tori no Mizudaki set was offered during lunch and dinner, plus the option for several add-on chicken skewer items. Not wanting to over-stuff ourselves we just went for the regular set this time. Soon, the lady who was serving us brought in the appetizer dishes then began preparing the setup for the hotpot.

Our appetizer was a beautifully presented hassun platter and a bowl of chicken liver. The chicken liver was amazingly sweet and tasty without the slightest hint of bitterness, and I also liked the little piece of yuba with a touch of soy sauce served as part of the appetizer. The rest of our meal was done entirely at the stone casserole being set up next to our table, and throughout the meal the food was served to us so we didn't have to worry about the cooking bit, unlike Cantonese hotpot or even Japanese shabu-shabu (beef hotpot) that we were more familiar with.

The chicken meat and stock was cooked before-hand so technically only the vegetables were cooked by table-side. Our first course was a bowl of egg-drop chicken soup. A quail egg was cracked into a small bowl with the chicken soup poured over and mixed. The restaurant was famous for the creamy-white, thick chicken stock - the result of a 3 days slow-simmering of chicken parts with the proteins and collagens and flavors all well-infused to the stock base. It was intense and heart-warming.

Then on a separate bowl we were served a few more rounds of chicken with the soup, each rounds with a different set of seasonal vegetables and a light touch of the special ponzu sauce to augment the overall flavors. I thought the chicken was decent - tender and tasty, but it's definitely the soup which set the place apart. The vegetables - including shungiku, shitake mushrooms, cabbages and tofu - took in all the flavors from the soup, so did the sticky rice cake, which was served as our last bowl. The bottle of ponzu was left at the table so we could add more if needed, but I reckon with the intense chicken soup I hardly need any additional seasonings especially when the soup was reduced and took in the vegetable flavors after each round. The bowls of soup were heavenly - just think how great this would be on a cold winter day and you have a bowl of such tasty chicken soup in your hand.

With the remaining chicken soup still simmering in the stone casserole, the lady who's been serving us the entire afternoon brought in the rice and condiments (whisked eggs and green onions), slowly stirred them in in specific order to make our last savory course of a zosui, or rice porridge. That, plus the dessert of a simple grapefruit jelly and fruit platter, were a soothing end to a satisfying meal, no matter what season we are in.

You can also check out the full photo album on my Flickr page:

When? June 20 2015
Where? Toriyasa, Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto west Toru Ishigaki Article 4 lower ru 136, Saitochou
鳥彌三 京都府京都市下京区西石垣通四条下ル斉藤町136
Menu Highlights? Tori no Mizudaki

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