24 Hours To Dine: Chu Wei Sin's Guide To Eating In Kyoto
Chu Wei Sin
Largely known as Jeff Ramsey's indispensable right-hand man, Chu Wei Sin has his own story to tell about the culinary arts, which he sees as 'a catalyst for connecting people.'
"Couples fall in love over dinner; world leaders discuss politics over lunch; and families reconnect over Sunday brunches — all these happen around a dining table, which is also why I prefer communal dining," shared Chu.
His mentors include world class chefs such as Mercer Mohr (USA), Simon Gault, Benjamin Bayly (New Zealand) and, of course, Ramsey (Malaysia), whom he has stuck by for 4 years. "After 15 years of cuts and burns in the kitchen, I am now general manager, which requires running Babe's operations," he explained.
What about Kyoto’s dining culture do you wish Malaysia could assimilate? we asked, to which he answered: "Here in Malaysia, I always see how food gets thrown away too easily. There is unnecessary wastage everywhere. Kyoto's care for ingredients is one thing Malaysians can afford to adopt."
Breakfast Or Tea Time - Nishiki Market
Fondly known as 'Kyoto’s kitchen,' Nishiki Market is an actual working market that houses a variety of shops vending fruits, vegetables, specialty pickles, and fresh fish. You'll also find sashimi stalls, restaurants and several bars, making Nishiki the perfect place to enjoy a wide variety of culinary delights. There was so much to try that we came back twice in 3 days!
Here's a pro tip: The first few stores are generally more expensive; stroll into the heart of the market to find cheaper shops that are just as good.
Lunch - Yudofu Sagano, Arashiyama
Nestled in a quieter corner of Arashiyama, a district famous for its bamboo groves and temples, Yudofu Sagano is an excellent place to try yudofu kaiseki or tofu simmered in broth. Not only is the food clean and tasty; the restaurant houses a tranquil garden where you can enjoy your meal amidst beautiful scenery – it’s almost like being transported to a different realm.
Tea Time - Slopes Of Ninen-Zaka & Sannen-Zaka
After checking out Kiyomizu-dera Temple, one of Kyoto's most iconic temples, explore the sloping paths of Ninen-zaka & Sannen-zaka in the southern Higashiyama area. Lined with traditional shophouses, these historical alleys hold a curious collection of teahouses, snack shops and even a traditionally restored Starbucks with tatami mats! These streets are lined with plenty of snack shops selling dango (skewered rice dumplings), mochi (sweet rice dumplings), senbei (rice crackers), konpeito (sugar candies) and green tea anmitsu (agar dessert).
Dinner - Gion Yata
Located in a unassuming traditional ‘machiya’ townhouse, Gion Yata offers traditional Kaiseki cuisine, which pays homage to Kyoto’s food style and seasonality. Don't forget to make reservations for this mid to high priced eatery, as there are limited seats.
The entrances all look the same, so ask a local to show you the right one.
Inside you'll find a relaxed and cozy environment with tatami mats lining the floor.
The best dish, in my opinion is the maru-nasu cooked 'Dengaku style' – think charcoal-grilled Japanese eggplant coated with 2 types of seasonal miso, fukinoto-miso and kinome-miso.
Gion Yata’s food is superb and showcases the best of Kyoto's seasonal produce.