On every trip, we always try to eat a few local meals, something the locals usually eat at home as their breakfast, lunch, or dinner, something that is their everyday food. We discovered IZAMA (居様) while exploring the backstreets of the busy Shijō area in one of our Kyoto trips.
IZAMA serves traditional home-style platter meals or what Japanese calls obanzai (おばんざい). Concocted of multiple small dishes using local and seasonal produce, the chefs focus on bringing the natural flavors, colors, and Kyoto style of cooking to the forefront. Carefully and skillfully arranging each meal, they ensure that each platter is not just pleasing to the palate and to the eye but also nutritional and well-balanced.
Above 4 Photos Credit: IZAMA
Though the restaurant is located within Mitsui Garden Hotel Shinmachi Bettei (三井ガーデンホテルズ), its main entrance (top picture below) opens to a row of quiet boutiques, artisanal shops, apartments, short office buildings, and traditional Kyoto townhouses or machiya 町屋, away from the main shopping streets and the busy business area.
Its interior is tasteful and minimal, reflecting a Zen aesthetic. A long table sits in the middle with more tables running on the flanks. Even though it was a full house when we went for lunch, it was peaceful, unchaotic and there were no loud noises from other tables. I guess this might be the Japanese’s way of respecting the ambience that the owners are trying to create in this restaurant.
IZAMA has 3 separate opening hours for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. As IZAMA serves breakfast to the hotel patrons of Mitsui Garden Hotel, we thought it would be better to have our lunch (¥1,800 ~ ¥3,500) to there when it would be less crowded than the morning rush hours and less expensive than the dinner menu (¥3,300 ~ ¥7,500).
Besides signature meals, IZAMA offers special limited-time platter meals that feature seasonal ingredients. We jumped on the opportunity to order the Obanzai of Autumn (秋のおばんざい御膳 ¥2,000). As some elders believe, it’s more nourishing for the body to eat seasonal produce and food.
As we made a reservation (more of that later) and pre-selected the meal, it arrived quickly and we were already full of anticipation! It was like those classic bento boxes of bygone days where each tier held surprises, prepared and packed with a big heart.
Unveiling each tier, we found exquisitely arranged small dishes. There were a rice staple, clear broth, tofu with gravy, a vegetable and potato salad, fried and simmered tofu or yuba with pumpkin, gingko, Kyoto vegetables, soy sauce egg (ajitsuke tamago 味付け卵), marinated tuna, candied sweet potato, and a leaf-wrapped surprise. We wish we could put a finger to some of the dishes in this meal. Some of them were new to us and we have eaten a lot of Japanese food! This limited-edition obanzai changes every season. There’s one each for spring, summer, autumn, and winter. So, it was okay that we did not know everything in our meal right? 😁
The leaf-wrapped pouch in one of the small dishes (bottom left of the picture above) contained a surprise. At first, we thought it might be chicken (something like the lotus leaf chicken we have back home) but it turned out to be a mini daifuku mochi 大福 filled with a sweet white bean paste 白あん.
All we know was that each dish was delicious and balanced in its overall taste. Not overly seasoned and thus not overpowering, we could still taste the natural flavors and freshness of the ingredients. Our favorite was the marinated maguro (tuna fish) which was umami 旨み!
The Kyoto rice was soft, moist, and sweet. Chewing the plump and slightly sticky grains was so satisfying!
pling thinks…IZAMA is a lovely restaurant to experience Kyoto home-style food featuring the season’s bounties. The whole atmosphere in the restaurant, which resides in a traditional Kyoto townhouse, and the dainty presentation in the tiered bento box compelled us to eat slower and thus savoring every bite — something we tend to rush through in our daily life back home. At the end of the meal, we gratified both our hunger and tastebuds without any feeling of heaviness. Our steps were light as we continued on our trip.
How to get to IZAMA
Breakfast: 6.30am to 10am (Last order (9.30am)
Lunch: 11.30am to 2pm (Last order 1.30pm)
Dinner: 5.30pm to 10pm (Last order 9pm)
For lunch and dinner, we recommend that you make a reservation first and choose your menu. We understand that the restaurant can get full quickly and the obanzai sets can sell out. For dinner, the menu is different which includes kaiseki 懐石料理 ¥7,500 and shabu-shabu しゃぶしゃぶ ¥3,300 to ¥6,000.
From Kyoto Station, take the JR Karasuma Line and alight at Shijō Station (四条駅). Walk towards the cross junction of Karasuma-dori (烏丸通) and Shijō-dori (四条通). You will pass by Cocon Karasuma. Turn left and walk till you reach Shimmachi-dori (新町通). Cross the road and walk along Shimmachi-dori till you see IZAMA on your right.
If you look at the map links above, IZAMA is slightly opposite of Nishiki Market, further away from the Kamo River (鴨川). It is also about 20-25 minutes’ walk from Nijo Castle if you are coming by that way.
From Kyoto Station, take Bus 5 or 26 and alight at Shijo Karasuma. Walk till you reach Shimmachi-dori (新町通). Cross the road and walk along Shimmachi-dori till you see IZAMA on your right.