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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Ajiro A Taste of Zen Near Myoshinji


Shojin ryori, the vegetarian cuisine served in the Rinzai, Soto, and Obaku sects of Zen Buddhism, is one of the culinary delights of Kyoto and can be enjoyed at a variety of temples and restaurants in the city. Ajiro, on the west side of Kyoto, near the Myoshinji complex is amazing!

Ajiro A Taste of Zen Near Myoshinji.

Ajiro is located across the street from the south gate of Myoshin-ji, one of the head temples of the Rinzai sect of Zen with some 3,500 sub-temples all over Japan. A huge temple complex in the western area of Kyoto, Myoshin-ji is also famous for its shojin ryori. For decades, Ajiro specialized in catering ceremonies and services at Myoshin-ji, but since rebuilding and opening to the public in the late 1980's, this small restaurant has been putting a new spin on the centuries-old Myoshin-ji tradition of cuisine.

The menu at Ajiro changes every month, says head chef Chiba Mitsuru, in accord with the season and its offerings. Although not trained as a priest, the fresh-faced and soft-spoken Chiba is mindful that shojin ryori is meant to be sustenance for the spirit as well as the body.

The restaurant has only two small rooms on the first floor and two larger ones on the second. The food is served on low lacquered tables and is brought course by course to your room. Ajiro's daizu-dofu, soybean tofu thickened with arrowroot, includes tofu made with lotus root, pistachios, or walnuts. Their daizu-mochi, glutinous rice cakes made with soybeans, wood ear and lily bulb, float in a rich stock, garnished with grated citron.

This distractingly good dish was served with a cup of Omuro no Hana, a tasty local sake with a sweet edge to it. Next was the boxed lunch, pleasing both to the eye and tongue. Among the appetizing array of vegetables was a dish of rape buds, bamboo shoot, yuba (soybean milk skin), and nama-fu (wheat gluten) in a delicate tofu sauce and one of Daitoku-ji natto (preserved soybeans) in a tiny dumpling made of ground lily bulb.

To end the meal diners are served yuto, bowls of hot water which had been flavored with salt and grilled rice balls, then eat the rice balls too. In temples, yuto is often served instead of tea. In the past, when rice was prepared in wood-burning ovens, it was one way to use the scorched rice on the bottom of the pot.

While in the neighborhood, be sure to take a walk around Myoshin-ji, rich in artistic, architectural, and landscaped treasures. One of the oldest sub-temples on the grounds, Taizo-in is known for its rock garden, designed by the great Muromachi Period painter, Kano Motonobu, who superbly managed to pass on his painterly vision in the trees, shrubs, and rocks of the garden.

Catching a Catfish with a Gourd.

The temple also owns of one of the masterpieces of Japanese brush and ink painting, Catching a Catfish with a Gourd. (A copy is displayed at the temple; the original is in the Kyoto National Museum.) If you're lucky, you'll be able to linger and enjoy the garden.

Myoshin-ji Minami Mon-mae
Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 616-8041
Tel: 075 463 0221

Open for lunch from noon to 3pm. Dinner is served from 5pm-9pm daily except Wednesdays, and guests are requested to enter no later than 7pm. Reservations are necessary. Tel: (075) 463 0221. Taizo-in is open daily to the public. The entrance fee is 600 yen.

Open: 9am-4pm. Entry: 500 yen. Access: Take city bus #5 from Kyoto Station to Nanzen-ji Eikando-mae; then walk 15 min. to the east. Tel: 075 761 0007.

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