Ryoan-ji is a Zen Buddhist Temple in Northern Kyoto, it houses one of the most famous kare-sansui (dry landscape) gardens in the city! However, I found the rest of the temple gardens were even more spectacular and our lunch was one of the most sensational meals we had in Japan.
At the famous zen dry garden you’ll want to take a seat and soak in the peacefulness of this wabi-sabi gem, expect it to be full of spectators that like to linger.
After viewing the main temple building and famous rock garden, you can walk the serene forested gardens which are magically mossy and filled with flowering trees in spring. There were no crowds here and I found a deep sense of tranquility. It’s lovely to take in so much nature and quiet in the heart of a major metropolis.
My advice, enjoy a good walk around the whole temple complex to get nice and hungry! As you follow the path you’ll start to see signs for their restaurant.
While veganism is a burgeoning concept in Japan, shōjin ryōri (精進料理, devotion cuisine) has existed in the country for centuries and is traditionally free of animal products. At certain temples you can experience a shojin ryori meal. We tried to get a reservation at a number of temples while in Kyoto but they were all booked. Not the case at Ryoanji Yudofu, no reservation was required and there was plenty of seating.
The restaurant is floor seating only so if you are unused to sitting on your heels or cross-legged it might be uncomfortable, but trust me the food & view are worth it!
The menu is simple and available in English. I recommend the full Yudofu set, because the sides are phenomenal. Yudofu is a boiled tofu dish, and all the accompanying side dishes incorporate tofu in many different ways you can’t try outside of Japan. If you think you’re not a tofu fan, this is going to convert you…or at least give you a hearty appreciation.
Sipping roasted green tea on the tatami mats while watching the garden, full of delicious wholesome tofu, you’ll know you had something really special in Kyoto.