Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Restaurant # 6: Tamahan Ryokan

After searching extensively on the internet for a Ryokan (Traditional Japanese Inn) in Kyoto, we came accross Tamahan.
It was situated in Gion, just a few minutes walk from the Kiyomizudera and Kodaiji Temples.
If you haven't been to Gion, the old district of Kyoto, you will have some difficulty in understanding just how beautiful the place is, its like traveling 150 years back in time to a bygone era that only exists in Gion, and perhaps a few other places in Japan.

If you take a peek into any of the townhouses in the Gion area you will see just how splendid they are. With perfectly trimmed Japanese style gardens and genuine traditional style wooden structures. The streets and walkways are really neat and clean. The only sign here that you are indeed in the 21st century is the occasional vending machine.

If you are lucky, actually, more often than not... You will come across a Geisha, or a Maiko rather (apprentice geisha). Although the majority of them will be just tourists dressed up as Geisha, should you come accross a real Maiko you will be able to tell the difference quite easily.
As you can see, Gion offers a sublime blend between the traditional and hints of modernity, where the tranquility is often tainted by the occasional "Cans Shop"! :)

Arriving at Tamahan revealed to us just how beautiful the Ryokan was, we were glad we had four days to spend there. We were scheduled to have dinner at the Ryokan, so we went out for a bout of Gion exploration before heading back here for dinner.

A view of the Ryokan's main entrance.

I personally opted for parting with modern conveniences throughout the duration of our stay in Gion, in order to be better immersed in the Ryokan experience, Walid on the other hand, had no such intention. You can see Tamahan's spectacular inner garden through our room window.
We had two rooms, situated one above the other.

What better way to have dinner in the Ryokan than dressed in traditional attire...
On to the food. Excuse my descriptions, as we neither got a menu, nor had an english speaking waitress so ill try my best to describe what the food items actually were.

First course was Tofu in a simple Dashi based broth and some White fish Sashimi.
Very elaborately presented as you can see.

This course will be harder for me to describe, excuse my memory lapse.
At the top of the plate was a spinach, enoki mushroom and tofu salad in the smaller white plate, clockwise next is a rolled piece of stuffed eel, next is a slice of jellied octupus, Edamame, a slice of sweet potato, a shrimp on a sweet yellow paste that had the texture of hard boiled egg yolk, and finally a slice of some sort of dried fish.

A simple Chawan Mushi (Egg custard flavored with dashi, soy sauce and mirin). No toppings or fillings had been added, probably to emphasize the delicate taste af the Chawan Mushi, showing off the chef's skills.

Here was the deep fried course, served with a lemon wedge and Matcha salt.
It was skillfully prepared and retained very little oil.
There was a green pepper, a red pepper, a slice of sweet potato, and two varieties of fish, one of which was coated with little multicolour crumbs.

This was a whole fish head cooked with bamboo in a sweet sauce.
It was the best course of the meal. Although it was my first time having a "fish head" and the idea did not seem appealing to me at first, it did have quite some meat on it, although i did avoid the eyeballs, which my brother Walid tried. Apparently the eyeballs are extremely fishy tasting, glad I avoided them!

A broiled King prawn basted with a sweet sauce, again, this was very good.

This was eggplant coated with black and white miso. Kyoto eggplants are exceptionaly sweet and moist. The quality of fruits and vegetables in Japan is astounding, I would go as far as to say they are the best in the world.

Please excuse the low quality of this photo, unfortunately, i cannot recall what this plate was!
After this they server us some plain steamed rice, which we were too full to eat.

The dessert was simply some cherries in a glass of ice water. Just as expected from Japanese fruits, these were very sweet and juicy.

Breakfast was no less fancy, a typical breakfast included several plates and the choice was either Japanese or western. Naturally, I sided with Japanese: (although the Japanese breakfast did differ from day to day)

The plate on the right was a Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with mushrooms and prawns, very tasty. On the left hand side was yogurt with blueberries and avocado. Curious as to why they would serve this as part of a Japanese breakfast as neither yogurt nor avocados for that matter are traditional Japanese foods, rather they are more recent imports.
On the top left was a plate of pickles. Not pictured here was a bowl of plain steamed rice.

Deep fried Tofu in a dashi-soy sauce broth topped with chopped seaweed.

Delicoious Miso soup with Enoki mushrooms and Rolled Omelette.
Tamahan's breakfasts were quite memorable, much needed calories to sustain our 12 hours of walking daily routine.

Here I am with the two tamahan attendants to my left and right, and the Obasan on the right hand side of the picture was the owner of Tamahan. I can not say enough good things about the service there or the owner herself for that matter, they were most courteous, friendly and accomodating.
The prices were not cheap, and can be seen in detail on their website, but for a high end Ryokan I think that this was the best that Kyoto had to offer. Located right in the heart of Gion, excellent food, and excellent service.

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