Kyoto was pretty much a tourist city, and there were plenty of Starbucks and mochi stores. We spent majority of our trip in Kyoto, spending time with friends, making new friends, and, thanks to them, discovering amazing restaurants away from the tourist traps. First night, our friend, Philip, took us to a small dinning joint near Karassumaoike, where I feel I had truly begun experiencing Japan. The dinner started with Japanese wine (Sake is a miss translation. Servers might end up bringing you salmon. if you ask for Sake. Nihonshu (日本酒) is the actual term). Through my friend, the server explained the differences between Tobingakoi (斗瓶囲い) and regular nihonshu and poured us generous portions from each of the two huge 18-liter bottles. I will do a full post on Nihonshu later, but generally, Nihonshu is ranked through three categories: alcohol level, sweetness, and the degree to which the rice is polished. However, these categorization doesn't begin to describe the purity and complexity of the wine. These two ordinary nihonshu are better than anything I had in Canada, and they are cheap! The white one is high in acid, low bodied, with lemon and grapefruit note, while the red one is bone dry, pungent, and full bodied, with smoky toasted rice notes.
To pair with the wine, we orders various delicious fish dishes, raw and cooked, and chicken sashimi. The chicken tasted like fresh tuna belly sashimi (toro), without any stench or aftertaste Americans usually associate with raw chicken. It was delicious, and we ordered a second plate. It doesn't the nasty raw smell and corn flavor of American chicken. The differences are almost criminal. No, I had never eaten chicken before. In fact, it ruined my ability to enjoy chicken in Canada again.
At this point, none of us were sober to enough to remember the rest. I even stopped taking photos. However, I vaguely remembered the bill was very cheap considering how much we drank and ate. Afterwards, we walked down to the river to enjoy the cool night breeze and the beautiful night scenery... things money can't buy.
We spent quite a bit of time trying out different food places on Sanjo Dori. They were all unique and amazing. To find the street, train down to Karasuma Oike, walk south for three blocks until you reach a giant Starbucks. Sanjo Dori would be the cross street.