[Kyoto] A Must for Vegetarians! 5 Restaurants That Serve Superb Shojin Ryori
Kyoto is one of the most popular tourist cities in Japan. The old Japanese capital has a variety of restaurants and temples where you can try “shojin ryori,” a very traditional cuisine passed down for generations that uses absolutely no animal-derived ingredients in its recipes. In this article, you’ll get to know where you can find the finest examples of this gorgeous cuisine. Get ready to experience the traditional world of shojin ryori in the historic city of Kyoto.
What is Shojin Ryori?
Shojin ryori is a cooking tradition based on the precepts of Japanese Buddhism.
One of these precepts says that practitioners devoted to the practice of Buddhism must abstain from killing living beings. Therefore, the use and consumption of meat, fish, and other animal products is forbidden. Shojin ryori meals are completely plant-based using only ingredients such as vegetables, grains, seaweed and fruits.
For the Japanese people, eating grains and vegetables has always been a part of their food culture since antiquity, but lately more and more people around the world are becoming aware of the benefits of eating healthy, and this trend for better well-being has made shojin ryori very attractive among visitors in Japan.
Tenryu-ji Temple is a World Heritage Site located in Arashiyama, where you can also find the famous Togetsu Bridge and bamboo grove are located. In the premises of the temple’s garden sits Shigetsu, a restaurant that specializes in shojin ryori. At this restaurant, you can enjoy dishes prepared with seasonal ingredients while admiring the colors the different seasons bring to the beautiful garden. Every dish on the beautifully arranged tray is colorful and vibrant and offers a superb spectacle not only to your palate but your eyes as well.
2. Izusen Daijiin Branch
Izusen is a well-established shojin ryori restaurant with more than 140 years of history. In 1963, the restaurant opened one of its branches in the premises of the Zen Buddhist temple Daitoku-ji, where it continues to serve to this day. The astonishingly beautiful dishes are served in scarlet-red bowls that imitate the iron bowls Buddhist monks use when doing takuhatsu (a form of ascetic practice where a monk goes around the homes of believers to beg for food and other bare essentials, and thus offer them the opportunity to accumulate good deeds).
*The restaurant has an English menu.
On a sunny day you can even enjoy your meal at the open-air tables.
One of Kyoto’s quintessential dishes is yudofu, a simple but majestic dish that consists of boiled tofu. Yudofu is a precious source of protein in a cuisine that doesn’t make use of meat or fish such as shojin ryori. Its origins are said to trace back to the region of Higashiyama, and more specifically the area surrounding Nanzen-ji Temple.
Located right next to such temple, Yachiyo is a restaurant with a spectacular garden that you should definitely visit in order to try this delicacy. The tofu is made the traditional way using water pulled from the well every morning and it’s served with a special sauce made with dashi (stock) – the soul of Kyoto cuisine – and customized to particularly suit the dish. This carefully handmade yudofu will warm your body as well as your heart. The graceful taste of the soft tofu is sure to delight you.
*The restaurant has an English menu.
The view from the terrace seats is delightful with the special illumination at night.
4. Tobajin Fushimi
Tobajin is a Kyoto cuisine and shojin ryori restaurant with more than 120 years of history, located at the foot of Daigoji Temple, a World Heritage Site situated in the southeast region of Kyoto. The restaurant conserves the architecture of traditional merchant houses with beautiful tatami mat rooms and a gorgeous inner garden. You can feel their heart-warming hospitality in every little detail. The excellent shojin ryori dishes make use of handmade sesame tofu, yuba (a delicacy made of tofu skin), nama-fu (small cakes of steamed wheat gluten), and seasonal vegetables from Kyoto.
5. Manpuku-ji Temple
Situated in the town of Uji, Manpuku-ji is a temple of the Obaku Sect of Zen Buddhism that serves a Chinese variety of shojin ryori called “fucha ryori”. Differently than its Japanese counterpart, fucha ryori incorporates many elements of Chinese cuisine in the recipes, offering flavorful and colorful dishes fried in oil. In Japanese shojin ryori, the food is served in individual portions to every person partaking the meal; however, in the case of fucha ryori, four diners are supposed to sit around the table and share the food that is served in large plates. You’ll be surprised with the ingenuity this cuisine applies to prepare dishes that look as if they were prepared with meat and fish (called “modoki ryori” in Japanese), but that in fact are strictly made using vegetables typical of Kyoto.
The tradition of shojin ryori has been passed down from generation to generation in Kyoto. On your next travel to the old Japanese capital, be sure to try this exquisite cuisine!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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