Sometimes the best things in life are found in the worst looking places.
The late afternoon sun hangs low as we walk down an empty side street half-masked in shadow. Once again, we’ve been exploring Kyoto with such zeal that we are beyond hungry when we finally think about finding something to eat for lunch.
Options are rather sparse in this area, so this lonely alley is hopefully a shortcut to a more populated part of Kyoto with more restaurants. However, we only make it half way down the street when a cat steps out from the shadows, and motions for us to draw closer.
Like the crumbling brick walls of the old buildings around us, the white cat has seen better days, but that doesn’t seem to deter him in the slightest. With a flourish of his paw, he presents today’s menu at the Don (rice bowl) restaurant we are now standing in front of.
Perhaps it’s a testament to our level of hunger, but the dishes actually look good despite the layers of caked on dust. The prices are decent as well, so it doesn’t take much prodding from the cat to convince us to step through the restaurant’s tattered curtain and into the shop.
At first glance, the restaurant’s interior is old and worn and isn’t much to look at. However, as we take it all in, we realize there’s also a warmth and familiarity to this place.
It feels liked we’ve just stepped off the street into someone’s home.
The sense that we’re guests in a home rather than customers in a restaurant is further reinforced by the husband and wife that run the place. Each time we ask the wife about an item on the menu, she yells back to her husband in the kitchen to see if they have the ingredients for the dish.
I suspect she already knew the answer because there’s no hint of surprise on her face when she turns back and simply says, “Dame“. In other words, “We’re all out of that.”
We eventually chance upon a couple items that are available, and the wife relays our order to her husband with a shout. As we wait for the food to arrive, we take in our surroundings once more and marvel at how clean the tables are, which is astonishing considering the state of the rest of the restaurant.
The food arrives quickly, giving us something other than the dusty walls to focus our attention on.
First up is a bowl filled to the brim with dark curry. Thin slices of tender pork are sprinkled throughout, while hot rice rests beneath the surface.
The dish is a bit light on the pork, but the curry itself is rich and flavorful. It’s easily the best curry I’ve had in Japan– perhaps the best I’ve had anywhere.
I am in love.
Along with the curry, we also ordered a bowl of hot soba. The noodles are cooked to perfection and the warm broth is rejuvenating. We feel our energy returning with each spoonful.
As we enjoy this meal in the unlikeliest of places, we realize that we’ve found a hole in the wall. A hole in the wall may look like an abandoned shack from the outside, but if you’re willing to brave the grime and less than savory location, you will be rewarded with delicious food that is unparalleled.
In Hawaii, a hole in the wall is prized among locals, and discovering a new one is a special thing indeed. Under the dust and dirt, we’ve found an amazing restaurant in the shadow of a dark alley in the middle of Kyoto– a true hole in the wall if there ever was one.
Next time you come across a hole in the wall, take a moment before deciding to move on– it might be the discovery of a lifetime.
Dreaming of Kyoto
- A Look Down Kyoto’s Streets
- Exploring Nishiki Market
- Custom Kabocha Curry in Kyoto
- Down by the River
- This is Kyoto
- The Hidden Palace
- A Temple on Main Street
- At the Foot of the Mountain
- Late Night Kim Chee Fried Rice
- Falling Through Time in Gion
- Crunchy Katsu Curry in Kyoto