Friday, July 10, 2015

Noryo-yuka Cuisine in Kyoto

Sitting on Noryo-yuka (納涼床) - the open-air riverside platform - is an unique way of dining in Kyoto available only in the summer season. As this is our first time coming to town during the hotter months, we were eager to experience this ourselves.

Though there are over 100 Noryo-yuka set up in Kyoto by restaurants and bars of all sort - from traditional Kyoto cuisine to western food to places to drink - they tend to get very popular among locals and tourists so we decided to make a reservation in advance at a restaurant near to where we were staying.

The restaurant - called Shiki Yoshina - is located in a narrow alley known as Pontocho (先斗町) in between Sanjo and Shijo near to the Kamo river. It's an area lined with restaurants and bars on both side of the alley - many of them are quite touristy, understandably so, but there were some true hidden culinary treasures among them as well. The street became especially lively at night, as people basically just rub shoulders with one another walking in either directions, with an unified purpose of looking for good food.

We arrived slightly early - in case we got lost - so we waited outside the restaurant for a little as the couple occupying our table were finishing up their meal. We were then led through the restaurant to the outdoor area. We were a bit worried about whether it was too hot to eat outside, but actually with the sun set and mild wind blowing through, it was quite comfortable - guess we just picked the best day to have our first Noryo-yuka experience. The yuka at our restaurant was set up with proper chairs and tables, while in some others, it could be low table and mat on the floor, and every seats offer a good view of the river.

There were three kaiseki set menu options available and we have picked ours when we made the reservation. There were altogether quite a few courses - starting from the traditional hassun appetizers, then suimono (a soup or broth), otsukuri (essentially sashimi), yakimono and agemono (grilled and deep-fried dishes which were our main courses), and finishing up with gohan (rice) and mizumono (desserts).

Hamo - or conger pike eel - is considered a Kyoto delicacy during the summer, and it made its appearance in multiple dishes - including the soup, sashimi, and later as tempura. The clear soup - served with zuiki (taro steam) and junsai (water shields) - was clear but full of flavors. The hamo - cut the traditional way - was mild but with a good bite. We had our duo yakimono course - on one side was ayu, or freshwater trout, and on the other, slices of wagyu beef. Both were tasty - I especially liked the slightly bitter aftertaste typical of ayu which was at its prime during summer too.

For the rest of the meal, I would say it's decent but definitely not out of the world, as compared to any top kaiseki restaurants. But it's the ambiance we were coming after and we enjoyed much. The place also had a decent list of sake and shochu - we picked a junmai daiginjo from a local brewery and it went down smooth with our food with a hint of sweetness. With a few bottles I have tasted over the past few months, I have finally come to appreciate more of the wine made from Aiyama rice (愛山), a relatively new variety of rice for sake.

The restaurant was crowded with people dining on the Noryo-yuka and we could also take a peek at the restaurant behind us where people were doing the same (with a pair of geisha entertaining a big group), so it's a lively atmosphere seeing people cheering and drinking and eating. As I mentioned, with the mild breeze, it's actually very comfortable sitting outside. We had a good time which of course is always the most important part.

When? June 20 2015
Where? Pontocho Shiki Yoshina, Pontocho-ri, Kagyoku, Kyoto, Japan
先斗町 四季 よし菜 - 京都府京都市中京区先斗町通三条下ル2若松町141-1
Menu Highlights? Hamo consomme, Grilled Ayu and Wagyu Sirloin Steak
Drinks? Soku Junmai Daiginjo Aiyama Fujioka Shuzo 「蒼空」純米大吟醸愛山 - 京都藤岡酒造

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