Japan: The Anatomy of a Kyoto Breakfast

Japanese breakfast at Touzan in Kyoto

Japanese breakfast at Touzan in Kyoto

When I first came to Japan 6 years ago, I remember nervously spying the hotel buffet, wondering how on earth I could eat fish and miso soup for breakfast. Even rice at breakfast time seemed alien. Now I am thinking, maybe this should become my breakfast routine? It is so delicious, healthy and flavourful and leaves you full of chutzpah to get on with your day.

My first three days in Kyoto were marked by wonderful breakfasts (among other things). The Hyatt Regency, where I stayed, has a wonderful restaurant Touzan, that serves a gorgeous local breakfast, very much Japanese, but with local flavours. I was hooked. When I first dipped that semi dried barracuda into the seasoned egg, I sighed, then smiled. It was dreamy.

Japanese breakfast at Touzan, Kyoto

Japanese breakfast at Touzan, Kyoto

Japanese breakfasts, when you first have them, are overwhelming, in content and size. An enormous tray of food arrives with lots of fish, some fresh, some preserved, some tiny, a bowl of rice, pickles, tofu, tea, more fish, more pickles and lots of tea.

Japanese food is fiercely seasonal and also tied to its geography, so while there are common themes, there are variations wherever you go. The Touzan breakfast is one of the best breakfasts that I have had to date and it is all about Kyoto.

THE TOUZAN JAPANESE BREAKFAST

Home made soy milk – so rich, fresh and creamy

Fresh tofu – Kyoto is renowned for the quality of its tofu, as it has very soft water (see also: green tea and sake) with seasoning including small fry fish and sansho pepper, detailed below.

Fresh tofu at Touzan, Kyoto

Fresh tofu at Touzan, Kyoto

Fresh semi dried barracuda with a seasoned egg – this was caught near Kyoto, and is dried for two hours which reduces the water content in such a way that the fish dries a little but stays quite fresh, and the fish becomes a little sweeter. Dipped in the seasoned egg, which was rich and gorgeous (I could swim in it), this was the highlight of the meal along with the tofu.

Fresh semi dried barracuda with seasoned egg

Fresh semi dried barracuda with seasoned egg

Kyoto pickles – Kyoto is famous for its pickles, and deservedly so. Aubergine (which in this case was pickled with shiso which changed the colour), cucumber, radish and gobo (burdock?). Really beautifully done and provides a lovely piquancy while cleansing the palate in between intense bites of the other dishes.

Small fry, sansho, pickles

Small fry, sansho, pickles

Small fry, rice and sansho pepper – I think baby sardines, they translate roughly as small fry. Either way, tiny delicious fish used to garnish your rice and your tofu, peppered, literally, with sansho.

Nishin, aubergine, beans

Nishin, aubergine, beans

Nishin (herring) and aubergine – the herring is slightly sweet due to the way it has been marinated and cooked. Herring is intrinsic to Kyoto food and is also served with soba, among other things.

Miso Soup with a beautifully soft and fragrant sesame tofu & yuzu. A bowl of rice. Lots of tea.

Gorgeous. I miss it already.

Touzan is a restaurant at the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto, where I stayed as a guest.

Niamh

I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

22 Comments Write a comment

  1. Yes, gobo is burdock. :) The tofu looks gorgeous, by the way. Have you tried Kyoto’s yuba (tofu “skin”)? So good.

    I thought Japanese-style breakfasts were really odd when I moved here, but now I’m very used to it. When my parents visited, we had continental breakfasts at business hotels, which have a mix of Western and Japanese food. They were really surprised when I started making a salad, but it’s hard to get a lot of vegetables here when you’re not cooking at home or at vegetarian places–got to get them when you can!

    Reply

    • Had yuba several times and loved it, just haven’t had time to write about everything yet :)

      Salad for breakfast isn’t for me just yet although always see it in hotels.

      Reply

  2. Yes, gobo is burdock. :) The tofu looks gorgeous, by the way. Have you tried Kyoto’s yuba (tofu “skin”)? So good.

    I thought Japanese-style breakfasts were really odd when I moved here, but now I’m very used to it. When my parents visited, we had continental breakfasts at business hotels, which have a mix of Western and Japanese food. They were really surprised when I started making a salad, but it’s hard to get a lot of vegetables here when you’re not cooking at home or at vegetarian places–got to get them when you can!

    Reply

  3. Pingback: I <3 Japan – beautiful articles by Eat Like a Girl – Japan: The Anatomy of a Kyoto Breakfast | Food&Wine.

  4. I think we could all learn from Japan. I watched a video once on Japans school dinners. I learned their school dinners are healthy, tasty, enjoyed and finished by pupils. Food education is part of their lunch break.
    After another weekend of excess fat, I have found Asian food is a healthy way forward. With our meat scandals, it seems the more balanced approach of Japan and other countries is the way forward. It’s also a great way for poor people like myself to have tastier healthier food.
    Putting quality and taste before quantity. Your pictures and this post demonstrate that. We have the best produce around us. Much of it wild/free. It’s a no brainer.
    The idea of sweetening up Herring sounds really nice. Also removing the water content of fish, great move. I remember seeing Gordon do this once, can’t remember which fish, but a great idea.
    Another superb post with great pictures. Thanks for the inspiration. The Japan cookbook is coming out this week.
    P.S. This does not mean , I am never having another St Johns Doughnut Saturday Bakery , which we tried, on our visit to London, for the first time , two weeks back.

    Reply

    • Sticking to fish, vegetables, pickles, and miso is pretty healthy, but Japan has plenty of native and non-native unhealthy foods. Even though meals aren’t centered around meat (usually), there’s meat, usually pork, in everything. School lunches also vary a lot by school and town. Some are really great, like the ones featured on CNN and NPR lately, but there are plenty that aren’t so great. (Fried bread and ramen day comes to mind.) The food served at ryokan tends to be the healthier sort (fish, vegetables, etc.), especially in Kyoto, but what the rest of the country eats is not this kind of food.

      Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Japanese food has many good components and ideas, but the execution isn’t always good and Japan isn’t exactly the paragon of health despite its lower obesity rates.

      Reply

  5. Gorgeous post, I’ll be eating some of those breakfast ideas in London.

    had to write because your use of the word “chutzpah” really jumped out at me. Apologies, I’m a (Jewish) pedant, and it’s actually a word that traditionally has really negative connotations, it’s “brazen nerve” rather than “mettle”.

    The old definition of someone who has chutzpah is “someone who kills both their parents and then pleads for mercy because they’re an orphan”. So I think it’s a shame just to reduce it to a synonym for “courage”.

    Anyway. Sorry. My pedantic niggle aside, that was a lovely post, lovely writing!

    Reply

  6. I remember when I stayed in a temple in Koyasan having a savoury vegetable-tofu themed breakfast at 7am. Initially I wasn’t sure how if I felt like eating it, but it was delicious, not to mention incredibly nutritious and healthy. I love Japanese cuisine. Have you heard of a manga called Oishinbo?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oishinbo
    It’s a manga about Japanese food… and even comes with recipes of dishes that appear in the comic!

    Reply

    • Yes – love Japanese food related manga :) Adore Japanese food too, I know I have just been but I am already planning going back :)

      Reply

    • I totally read part of Oishinbo (the tonkatsu episode) at language school! What I’m really hoping for is an English release of Kinou, Nani Tabeta? by Yoshinaga Fumi (also comes with recipes). I think Bambino! got an English release, too….

      Reply

  7. I totally agree. Although it takes a little while to get used to the idea of fish and rice for breakfast, the Japanese breakfast is very balanced and healthy, not to mention delicious. I found some ideas for cheap and fast Japanese breakfast options in this article: http://www.deepjapan.org/a/1228

    Reply

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