When people think of Japanese food, sushi is one of the first that comes to mind. A little known fact about sushi, however, is that it has various regional styles, such as the Kyoto-style sushi offered by the restaurants Izuju and Izuu in Kyoto`s famous Gion district. With their long standing history of over 100 years for Izuju and 200 years for Izuu their dishes are regarded as some of the finest by Japanese chefs, locals and visitors yet both restaurants are very unique in their own way.
Izuju is the most well-known restaurant of the two due to its pristine location just across from Yasaka Shrine. It may not look so it from the outside but Izuju's interior takes you back through the ages as they have tried to preserve a cozy atmosphere to complement their traditional dishes. This also means that the establishment is rather small with only about 3 tables and 2 private rooms for small groups. The restaurant offers several traditional homemade dishes as well as a sampling set that combines bits of each dish making it the go-to-place in Kyoto for many sushi-enthusiasts. Its most renowned dish by far is Inari Sushi, simmered in a traditional hearth fueled by burning old chopsticks and wood these sweet beancurd skin pockets filled with fine sushi rice possess an abundance of tastes. As for drinks, I would personally recommend to accompany your meal with some nice warm sake to truly bring forward the sheer vastness of tastes the sushi has to offer. At Izuju you can even freely choose the sake cup you like out of a basket filled with dozens of cups with all sorts of designs, colors and sizes.
Izuu is tucked away in the Gion district itself and I must admit when I was introducing it to some of my friends we accidentally passed it once without noticing. Nonetheless, its most famous dish saba sugata sushi is worth all of that! Made of mackerel on top of packed sushi rice and wrapped with thick pickled kelp it is a true delight. The mackerel is caught from Japan`s surrounding oceans so it retains a true sense of freshness and taste. In the past mackerel was regarded as a luxurious ingredient as it was hard to come by in Kyoto making traditionally prepared dishes, such as those at Izuu, a testament of decades of refinement and balance. The rice comes from Kyoto`s neighboring Shiga prefecture while the kelp is naturally grown in Japan`s far northern prefecture, Hokkaido. The kelp used for saba sugata sushi is thicker than "regular" sushi and should therefore be removed and eaten separately afterwards to enhance your taste of freshness from the finely prepared mackerel and sushi rice. Izuu with its 18 seats is about the same size as Izuju, but does not get as crowded and one rarely has to wait. Lastly and it might seem like a very strange recommendation but do visit Izuu’s restroom for the restaurant holds a hidden oasis in the back you do not want to miss.
A visit to Kyoto would not be complete without trying its special Kyoto-style sushi and both Izuu and Izuju are perfect places to turn to be assured of a delightful feeling after taking your first bite of Kyoto-style sushi.