Notes from Japan: Hyotei

November 11, 2013

When I think about Kyoto, it's Hyotei I'll remember best. The 400 year old restaurant is famous for its kaiseki dinners, but we went early in the morning for asagayu, a stunningly perfect breakfast.  Served in complete serenity, it's the most fitting way to begin a day in this city of temples. A moment not to be missed. 

The meal begins with a cup of warm, rosy ume tea. Such a welcoming flavor.


Then this little still life appears, held out by women in kimono: two tiny, tasty fish, a perfect chestnut, one gorgeously boiled egg, its yolk halfway between solid and liquid, two pristine pieces of seaweed-wrapped sushi and ginger.

Next a stack of ceramics arrives. Take them apart and you discover that each holds a different range of flavors. 

 Mibuna and  shimeji mushrooms.


Muzuku, daikon, crab.


 Yuba, kinome, and a wonderful substance that tasted to me like tofu laced with tiny roe. 

Then there is miso soup, a warm up to the main event.  All this has just been a prelude to the most exquisitely cooked rice porridge.


This is subtle food. The rice is soft but entirely intact,  served with a thick, slightly sweet, slightly salty syrup that tasted to me like  excellent soy sauce mixed with dashi.  Sprinkled with pickled turnip and tiny fish, this food forces you to eat slowly, thoughtfully, with concentration.  You look out at the garden, take another bite.  Sip some green tea.

As we were leaving….


…chef Yoshihiro Takahashi, the 15th-generation of his family to run Hyotei (which started as a tea house of the Nanzenji temple ) came out to feed the koi…


…who came rushing toward him. 

And who can blame them?

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