HOLIDAY HUNTER: EXPLORE KYOTO
FOOD WRITER JULIA BUSUTTIL NISHIMURA SHARES WHY SHE RETURNS TO JAPAN EVERY YEAR.
Food writer Julia Busuttil Nishimura visits Japan every year. Here, she shares some of her favourite places to eat and shop in Kyoto and beyond.
HOME COOK, FOOD WRITER and Italian teacher, Julia Busuttil Nishimura spends most of her time planning, writing and cooking at her Melbourne home, where she lives with her husband Nori and their three-year-old son, Haruki. She creates beautiful dishes from simple ingredients and shares those recipes on her website Ostro, as well as in her cookbook of the same name, which was published in August last year. “When I’m not working on new creations in the kitchen or hosting cooking workshops, I love to travel,” says Julia. “It’s the source of inspiration for much of my writing and complements the work I do in the kitchen.” While Julia loves to research and plan her trips, she also likes to allow for a little spontaneity. “Wandering around new places and following your nose to your next meal can be so rewarding and often ends up being the greatest experience,” she says. “I always come back from a trip feeling re-energised.” Here, Julia talks about her recent trip to Kyoto in Japan — she visits at least once a year with her family. “It’s where my husband Nori is from, and aside from being an amazing place to visit generally, we want our son Haruki to have strong ties to Japan as a second home. For him to be familiar with the traditions and customs and have real opportunities to speak the language is such a strong pull for us.”
TELL US ABOUT YOUR LAST TRIP TO KYOTO? Nori is from the countryside in Gifu, and Kyoto isn’t too far away, so we usually make a stop off there. On this trip we were spoiled with time and had quite a leisurely stay. We spent a whole week in the beautiful city; shopping, eating and soaking up the surrounds.
WHAT’S THE FIRST THING YOU DID AFTER ARRIVING? We strolled into town to visit the Nishiki Markets. It’s filled with food vendors selling anything from squid on a stick to matcha tea treats, plus plenty of shops. My favourite is the famous knife shop, Aritsugu, where they have been crafting kitchen knives since 1560. Knives can be engraved with your name, making for the most perfect souvenir. We wandered there for hours.
WHERE DID YOU STAY? Noku Hotel. It’s in a great location, just near the Imperial Palace and Marutamachi subway station, which makes for easy travel around the city (although we walk almost everywhere). It is a charming hotel and the rooms are large. There, we would begin the day with a traditional Japanese breakfast of rice, miso soup, pickles and grilled fish before setting out to wander the streets of Kyoto.
WHAT WAS THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP? Taking the train to Arashiyama, a town outside Kyoto in the mountains. There we had coffee from Arabica along the river and ate matcha ice-creams and dango (sweet dumplings). A festival happened to be on that day and the streets were filled people chanting and performing dances. We spent a few hours walking through the bamboo forest nearby, too — it’s truly stunning. I had also always longed to learn the art of making wagashi (traditional
Japanese sweets) and there is no better place to learn than in Kyoto, which is steeped in history. I took a private class with expert Yasue Miyazaki and it was outstanding. The biggest highlight though, was a dinner at Monk. Chef Yoshihiro Imai has a small restaurant along the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto. The menu is incredibly seasonal and almost everything is cooked using the wood-fired oven, including some of the best pizza I’ve eaten. He collects fruits, vegetables and herbs from his friend’s nearby farm and all the remaining produce is mostly local too. From start to finish, the most perfect dinner in a completely magical setting.
IS THERE ANYWHERE ELSE YOU WOULD RECOMMEND VISITING? For a weekend away, the art island of Naoshima is unforgettable. I also adore the seaside town of Kamakura and can never get enough of Tokyo, which can be so still even among all the chaos, and is home to some of my favourite places to eat. Next time, I’d love to visit Hokkaido, the landscape looks enchanting.
CAN YOU SHARE SOME OF YOUR TRAVEL TIPS? Travel light in Japan. Often trains won’t have space for large luggage, similarly in taxis, so it’s best to bring small luggage. I usually pack a large bag within that suitcase to bring home all the shopping though. Also, plan ahead if travelling during the busy season such as during cherry blossom festival — quality accommodation books out months in advance. > For more information about Julia, visit julia-ostro.com
Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Pumpkin scultpure on the island of Naoshima. FACING PAGE, CLOCKWISE, FROM TOP LEFT Julia, ready to explore; a beach on Naoshima; the Kamo River runs through Kyoto; Kitone is one of Julia’s favourite shops in Kyoto; a local taking part in a festival at Arashiyama; a Japanese pine tree growing in a walled garden in Kyoto.