Wei Chiang was still sick in Tokyo, so I went by myself to the Kyoto Railway Museum, a long-ish walk from Kyoto station. I passed by a fair, and my stomach, still empty since I woke up, demanded an offering. I gave it some yakisoba (500 yen). It’s a cheap, simple, and oily food that reminded me of char kway teow, and filled me up.
When I arrived at the entrance at 10:15am, just after opening time, the queue was already crazy long. It was a Sunday, so parents had brought their children there for a weekend outing. However, the queue moved very fast and I found myself in the galleries sooner than I thought. Once inside, the halls are spacious enough to comfortably accommodate the throngs of children and adults without any jostling.
The halls were filled with life-size trains, and for any train or transportation buff, this is a great museum. Exhibits are divided into a few sections for different subtopics of Japanese trains. One section shares on the history of the railroad in Japan; another section focused on the engineering behind the trains. However, all exhibits had very brief, inadequate English descriptions, with more elaborate Japanese descriptions. I rented the audio guide (500 yen), which helped to flesh out more detail, but still does not translate the details of every description, and is probably fine to skip unless you are here to really learn. In any case, it’s an outstanding tourist attraction, albeit one that rewards someone literate in Japanese.
There are also other delightful exhibits, such as an expansive model train show that runs only a few times a day, and even an opportunity to ride a steam engine for 300 yen.
Instead of figuring out the bus system, I decided to take a long walk down the grids of Kyoto to a ramen joint that a friend had recommended called Jinrai Head Store (神来 本店). Walking leads you down peaceful, quiet lanes, secluded from any city bustle.
After 30 minutes of walking, I found myself at the ramen place. Inside, it was a dimly lit and quiet bar. One bowl of tonkotsu ramen was 680 yen, which after the mediocre experience at Tokyo Ramen Street, felt like a steal to me. My friend’s recommendation did not disappoint. Springy, firm noodles, with a robust broth and thinly sliced chashu. A solid bowl of tonkotsu ramen at a good price. With every bowl of ramen, it’s always interesting to see which element I end up devouring more of: the noodles, or the soup. In this case, the noodles won.
The restaurant also had other stuff on the menu, such as their dessert (200 yen) which my friend also recommended. I didn’t know what it was called, but it consisted of vanilla ice-cream with sprinkled bean powder, caramel, and small gooey bits. The taste reminded me a bit of Korean bingsu.
My friend had also recommended shio pan (salt bread) at this a particular bakery called
Kyōto Pan Kōbō. It was 100 yen (before the 8 yen tax). Actually, most of the bread there was 100 yen, and they all looked so delectable that I had to resist the urge to buy every bread in the shop. Shio pan sounded like a simple pastry that shouldn’t be worth my attention, but I was surprised at how nice it was. I would describe its flavour as a salted butter croissant; lightly crispy, subtly salty, and soft and fluffy on the inside. I did try shio pan elsewhere later on and it wasn’t as good as the one here.
With some time to kill before Wei Chiang’s expected arrival later today, but unsure of where to go next, I decided to visit another Kyoto restaurant for a second lunch: Honke Owariya, which another friend had recommended for the soba.
I was ushered into the second floor, where a family of Filipino tourists sat around a veritable spread of buckwheat delights. I was still somewhat full from the late lunch and shio pan, so I only had space for a small bowl — which I wasn’t even sure I could finish. With a helpful English menu, it was easy to pore through the options.The menu had a nice spread of soba noodle options and also some lovely-looking desserts like soba cakes, i.e. buckwheat cakes. At this place, ‘soba’ referred more to the use of buckwheat than the noodles themselves.
I decided I might only have space for dessert, so I ordered the green tea and azuki which came with a buckwheat biscuit. Even though it was not a unique specialty of this place, it was what I craved after seeing it on the menu. The ice-cream fulfilled that craving satisfactorily but did not stand out from other matcha ice-cream I’ve had. However, the buckwheat biscuit was refined. It had a lightly sweet veneer over the thin cracker. It also broke in the mouth without softening quickly. The finest wheat cracker texture I’ve ever experienced.
After dessert, I felt I made enough room for soba, and I felt that I had to get something signature from this place, so I opted for the Tsukimi soba: soba noodles with a soft-boiled egg. The soup was umami in essence; some seafood flavour, and probably mushrooms too. My soba experience was paltry, but the noodles were fantastic; soft and break easily, without being mushy. It was easy to slurp up. I broke the yolk and ran the noodles through them, and the noodles coated in yolk became smoother and richer. As I ate, I noticed the noodles didn’t soften and maintained their texture despite lying in the soup for so long.
I slowly ate in the quiet ambience of the restaurant, a place which has served emperors from years past. Peaceful and warmly lit, it was nice to relax here outside of lunch or dinner hour. When I was finally done, I wanted to bring back an edible memento to share with friends and family. I ended up buying a box of 5pc azuki soba cake for about 595 yen.
While eating at Honke Owariya, I found out that Wei Chiang was almost here in Kyoto, so it was about time to head back. I finally saw him at Inari station. I was happy to see him after his long absence from Singapore. After we walked back to our accommodation and he put down his bags, we went to a nearby bar for dinner. It was a tiny, familial establishment, with three other people and the bar-owner who served beer and hot food. One of the patrons was a girl from Xinjiang who was studying in a local school, who could translate my Mandarin Chinese into Japanese for me. I had some beer, and Wei Chiang had some hamburger steak. We laughed and chatted in our convivial bubble as the town around Inari darkened into night.