If you had to learn only one pair of Japanese words pertaining to food (you should probably learn more, but…), I would advocate for oishii (delicious) and okawari (a second helping).
Conservative choices, but indispensable for eating in Japan — especially at a place like Kyo no Okazu, which, to continue this impromptu Japanese language lesson, has a double meaning in its name: okazu means both an accompaniment for rice dishes as well as a more cerebral reading, “food for thought.”
Kyo no Okazu is located inside the Yaoichi Honkan building in downtown Kyoto, a stone’s throw from Rokkaku-do, a historic temple boxed in by offices and shops. Yaoichi is one of my favorite buildings in Kyoto: It has a nice, genteel mix of shops, but best of all, on the roof there is a vegetable garden with a coffee stand, both of which hardly anyone, besides the butterflies fluttering between the neat rows of cabbages and carrots, knows about.
There are two restaurants in Yaoichi; Savory, on the third floor, looks out onto the rooftop garden, and Okazu is one floor below. Both restaurants use the produce from the year-round vegetable garden. I can only imagine the costs of bringing a vegetable garden onto the roof, but it’s inspiring and beautiful. Food for thought, indeed.
Okazu has two lunch options, each of which come in at under ¥2,000, and the menu changes regularly. Dinner is a la carte, supplemented by a limited set menu. On a recent visit with a friend, we sampled both lunch menus.
Lunch arrives on a simple wooden tray laden with beautiful-looking dishes. The gentei lunch set (¥1,890) contains a few more dishes than the standard lunch (¥1,380), but this almost becomes a moot point, because you get second helpings of the gutakusan (various ingredients) soup and the ajitsuke-gohan (seasoned rice).
The coming of fall was echoed in the hearty offerings. Common to both lunch sets was burdock root boiled in the classic Japanese tripartite: soy sauce, mirin and sake. The gutakusan soup, while prosaic in name, was delicious, thanks especially to the addition of cuts of sausage meat giving it a salty and umami flavoring. I meant to get a second helping, but after two rounds of rice I couldn’t force it. The pumpkin and pork belly was equally delicious — if only there were second helpings here!
With the standard lunch there is a choice of three main dishes. My companion ordered mushiyasai dashimaki — an assortment of steamed vegetables. I was hoping to pass off my chawanmushi on her, but failed, so I ended up eating it. I am glad I did, too; I might finally be acquiring a taste for this slimy dish.
There was a small serving of dessert, but for beverages take the short trip upstairs, where you can sip your coffee and survey nature quietly at work. It hardly gets more Zen in downtown Kyoto.
2F Yaoichi Honkan, 220 Sanmonji-cho, Sanjo Kudaru, Higashibora-in-tsu, Nakagoyku, Kyoto; 075-223-2370; www.kyotoyaoichihonkan.com; open 11 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-9 p.m. (L.O.) (closed Tues.); nearest stations Shijo Karasuma, Karasuma Oike; no smoking; lunch set from ¥1,380; no English menu; a little English spoken. J.J. O’Donoghue is an Irish writer living in Kyoto.
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