Japan, Kyoto, Travelling
comments 18

Lunch in Kyoto: Confusion & Flavour in Equal Portions at Ujicha Gion Tsujiri

Street in Gion, across from the green tea shop, Kyoto

Street in Gion, across from the green tea shop, Kyoto

Sitting in a green tea café in Kyoto, I look at the menu and think, at least there are pictures. I had visited the shop below a couple of days earlier and the queue for the café had been insanely long, so when I idled past later, and saw none, I bolted up the stairs.

It is not uncommon to find that Japanese restaurants don’t have English menus, even very popular ones like this (although I was the only tourist).

Why should they?

This is part of the fun I think, even when there is no pictures, I communicate in whatever way I can using sign language and whatever else I can (pleading looks, clumsy pronunciations), that I would like whatever they think is good. It usually works.

Ujicha Gion Tsujiri is a green tea shop in Gion. The cafe upstairs is famous for matcha ice cream and crazy looking sundaes with ice cream, bits of cake, glutinous rice balls and sauce. I really wanted to try.



I was handed the menu and reviewed the pictures. I had yet to try the sweet local glutinous rice balls and also these squares of jelly covered in a powder of sorts (I now know they are warabimochi, a jelly made from bracken starch, and these were like a really toothsome tea jelly dusted with kinako, which is sweet toasted soybean flour).

So, I pointed and looked pleadingly at my waitress: this?

Waitress: No!

Me: Er, why not?

Waitress: This is a set menu.

Me: Ok, can I get the set menu?

Waitress: Yes! {always smiling}

Me: Oh, good! {relieved} I pointed again at the dish and said, pleadingly: this?

Waitress: No! {Still smiling}

This went on for a bit. A complicated dance of me, essentially trying to order the cover of the menu (even though it was about 5 pages in), I found out later through the wonders of twitter.



Eventually I got to order this crazy little but very delicious dessert of glutinous rice balls with warabimochi (that came with a liquid green tea sugar to pour on top), and a scoop of wonderful matcha ice cream. Because you just have to.

Fantastic matcha ice cream

Fantastic matcha ice cream

The room was starting to fill up. To my left, Kyoto’s very own Sex & the City seemed to be playing out. A guy dressed head to toe in bright pink (and really rocking it), a pink velvet blazer, light pink trousers and shirt, bright pink loafers, a pink man bag and pink phone was chatting enthusiastically with his girlfriend and to my right a couple sat down and ordered noodles.

Happiness is a green tea shop

Happiness is a green tea shop

NOODLES! I didn’t see them.

I finished my dessert and waited for the waitress. I ordered some noodles through my now established pointing enthusiastically routine. I had managed to find the noodles in the menu by now (this mental chaos is entirely supported by jet lag by the way, it is like oxygen to the flame of confusion).

Green tea noodles

Green tea noodles

The noodles arrived, green tea noodles in a cloudy broth with tofu. Light, lovely, flavourful. Dessert first, but who cares? It was all delicious.

Green tea noodles

Green tea noodles




  1. Hi Niamh. I really enjoy reading your Kyoto updates. They are always really well described and the photos are beautiful. Which tour operator did you go with? I’m looking to head to Japan next year so any advice would be really useful.

    Keep having fun!


    • Hello! Thank you. Really lovely to hear.

      I didn’t come with a tour operator, I am free range :) I flew Cathay Pacific to Osaka and then went directly to Kyoto – they are very close. For the rest of my travels I have a JR Rail Pass which costs approx £200 for 7 days (and can only be bought outside the country before you go) which got me to Osaka and now Tokyo. I use the subway mainly when in each city. Occasionally taxis if totally lost.

      Hotels and guides (where necessary) were arranged separately. The JNTO were extraordinarily helpful – http://www.seejapan.co.uk

      I will blog detail on the logistics as there is a lot to consider.

      You should definitely go!

  2. Thai Orchid Edinburgh says

    Definitely a fun part of ordering (who know’s what you’ll get) but I have to say, I much prefer an empty restaurant where neighbouring tables won’t be laughing at you! Did this in france once when my school level French didn’t quite hit the mark, the table beside us were openly laughing which kind of took the fun away.

      • Thai Orchid Edinburgh says

        Haha! Yes, that’s a good way to look at it. Maybe next time I go there i should have “at least I’m on holiday, you’re at home” already translated! :-)

  3. Pingback: another from Eat Like a Girl – Lunch in Kyoto: Confusion & Flavour in Equal Portions at Ujicha Gion Tsujiri | Food&Wine.

  4. Happiness certainly is found in green tea.
    Your posts are beautiful Niamh; they have intensified my desperation to go to Japan and my hunger pangs!

  5. torihaschka says

    Oh you have made me so anxious to find my way to Japan. These posts are magical. More! More!

    • It really is magical. Love it here. Second trip and will be back again and again I hope. Want to explore the North and further South and Okinawa! :))

  6. The green tea noodles look amazing. They’re one of my favorite dishes and I’ve found a couple of restaurants here in Bangkok that make good ones, but the ones in your photo look even better!

    Gorgeous photos, btw!!

Over to you! Your comments - I would love to hear from you :)