05. First taste of Shojin-Ryori at Kodaiji Ikkyu-an 高台寺一休庵 (Higashiyama, Kyoto)—KenOn our first night at the Hyatt Regency in Kyoto, we had a fortuitous convergence. We asked the concierge to recommend a vegetarian restaurant, and she immediately mentioned the same place Shimizu-san's mother had named: Kodaiji Ikkyu-an (高台寺一休庵), a Shojin-Ryori (精進料理) restaurant. Shojin food is the traditional, vegan, Buddhist food from Kyoto, and I was so excited to go there. We had the concierge make reservations for that very evening. (By the way, the conceirges at the Hyatt were the best!)
The taxi brought us to what looked like a very nice family home, with a gate and a garden. In the dark entranceway, we were greeted by Tanuki (狸).
Apparently we were early, and the owner led us upstairs into a small private room. I think we were the only guests in the restaurant all night! The room was sparse and lovely, traditional, with sliding doors, a large window (too bad it was dark), and, it was cooold. I gave Kathryn my jacket before the tea even arrived.
The first coarse was definitely my favorite. And there were a lot of courses!
That black cube on the left is sesame, and tastes like tahini. There was pickled, sweet ginger, some kind of potato, fried yuba, and a small delicious vegetable I couldn't identify.
Next came a clear soup with a large mushroom, two small starch balls I thought were maron (chestnut). The white stalky thing was something neither of us could identify. It's almost tasteless, except that it absorbs the flavor of the soup and is just a little bit bitter.
There was another simple soup and a huge nasu dengaku (茄子田楽) (fried Japanese eggplant in miso) which was actually a little too tough to eat.
How are you supposed to eat it with chopsticks anyway?
One more soup had mushrooms and lotus root. I always love lotus root. By the way, I'm not really ambidextrous. I had the camera in my right hand.
At some point, the tempura came, with rice and a dipping sauce.
My favorite part of the tempura was a translucent, speckled, jelly-like stick I couldn't figure out. I saved it to ask our hostess, and she explained that it was a konnyaku (蒟蒻/菎蒻), not that I knew what that was. But I was delighted to find it several more times on our trip.
Then, there was another clear soup with a very subtle taste from the sprouts. There were also some shredded white slices of something.
Dessert was pear slices that tasted like they had been soaked in sake.
Near the end, there were so many things on the table, the sake was running low, and we just sat back and laughed.
Our hosts were so sweet. As we left, we had a nice conversation downstairs, yet in the most limited way. She asked if we would donate money for wooden laths that would be burned that weekend at the temple. We bought two and wrote prayers on them. The whole evening was great and I'll remember it for a long, long time!