This is the way our innkeeper at IchEnSou (our guesthouse in Kyoto) described the place he was going, and asked if we’d like to join him. Patten and I were starving. We asked if this bar served food. “Yes. It is not good food. Just curry rice and things like that.” We were skeptical, but when invited to a tiny bar by a local, you just go.
We walk across the Kamo River, longingly looking up at a 5-story building on the its banks, each of the 20 or so rooms filled with diners sitting on the floor. We guess it must be kaiseki, the term for a multi-course, artistically crafted meal; i.e. the most expensive dining option in Kyoto; i.e. officially not on a ZINK year budget.
Onward we walk, up Ponto-cho Dori, a tiny street — maybe 8 feet across — lined with paper lanterns of red chidori (wading birds) hanging from entrances of izakayas (bars), tearooms, and traditional restaurants. We hear laughing through the sliding doors; pots clanging through kitchen windows; the shuffling of those ahead/behind us, taking their time on this busy, romantic street. We take a left down an alley, a right on a larger street, then a right down a poster-plastered hallway. The innkeeper opens a door that looks like a wall and suddenly we are crammed around a small table in a bar the size of your bathroom.
We each order a round of tall beers. We introduce ourselves. There’s Akira, a twentysomething banker from Tokyo who comes to Kyoto often for the weekend; Fanny, a French student from Grenoble who’s studying economics in Seoul; Yashi, our innkeeper who took on this lifestyle as a way to “stay connected with the world”; Kimi, a Taiwanese interior designer who speaks like six languages; and Andrew, a Canadian who’s just finishing 4-months of ZINK-ing through the Himalayas, SEA, and North Korea.
Our conversation covered plastic surgery variations by country, the strange five-foot doorway at the guesthouse, the femininity of men in South Korea, and so on. Important topics; lively discussion. Then plates of food came out from the shoebox of a kitchen: soft tofu covered in kimchi; nori cheese wasabi (exactly as it sounds: nori, dried seaweed, wrapped around cheese spread with wasabi), fried chicken joints (an elbow-like texture, we decided), and the less exciting, but surprisingly delicious fried rice and yakisoba, fried noodles.
The night proceeded a few hours more, ending at the door to the inn with the realization that all of us (save for Yashi) were staying together in the same “mixed dorm.” Upstairs and lights out. A great, serendipitous night with interesting, fun, fabulous international friends. More of this, please!