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Nara Food Guide: Where and What to Eat in Nara Japan

Nara is known for many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, temples, shrines, and adorable wild deer. However, many visitors may not know there are many unique local Nara food specialties you should not miss. Many of these famous Nara foods are in the city’s centre and around major tourist attractions.

I spent a lot of time researching all the unique Nara food and spent two-plus weeks eating around the city. Even though you can see most of the attractions in Nara in one day, I highly suggest staying a few days slowly travelling around the quaint city and eating at many restaurants in Nara.

Whether you are planning a day in Nara or spending a few days in the town with roaming wild deer, follow my Nara food guide and find out where and what to eat in Nara for your upcoming trip.

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Tips for eating famous food in Nara

Before trying some of the best food in Nara, take a look at my post on everything you need to know before going to Japan. I included a lot of travel information, including how to get around Japan and other travel tips.

Here are a few additional tips for eating in Nara:

  • Most restaurants in Nara accept cash only, especially the noodle shops, where you must buy a ticket before sitting down.
  • Bring your credit card, as a handful of restaurants accept credit cards.
  • Check the hours of operation. Some Nara restaurants are open for lunch only, and a few are open for both lunch and dinner and take a break in between.
  • Download Google Translate, an app that can translate Japanese to English. Some restaurants in Nara have Japanese-only menus, but most have English menus. 
  • Tipping is not required in Japan.

Best Food in Nara: Where and What to Eat in Nara

In this section, I put together a summary of the best food to try in Nara. This is a quick guide for you when searching for what to eat in Nara

When you scroll down, I include a more extended explanation for each Nara food and where you can find the local food. I also included the hours of operation and Google Maps links to each Nara restaurant and food outlet so you can easily find them.

Here is a quick summary of all the food you should try in Nara:

Nara Famous Food

  1. Kakinoha-zushi – persimmon leaf sushi
  2. Kamameshi – Japanese rice dish cooked in an iron pot
  3. Chagayu – green tea rice porridge
  4. Narazuke – Japanese pickles made with local vegetables and sake lees

Nara Noodle Dishes

  1. Somen Noodle – thin, hand-stretched wheat flour noodles served cold or hot
  2. Tenri Ramen – hot and spicy ramen with soy sauce, tonkotsu and chicken broth and topped with pork and Chinese cabbage
  3. Kudzu Udon – thick udon noodles made from flour mixed with kudzu starch

Other must eat food in Nara

  1. Udon – thick noodles made with wheat flour
  2. Nabe – Japanese-style hot pot

Drinks in Nara

  1. Yamato Tea – tea grown in the Yamato Plateau, east of Nara City
  2. Nihonshu – Japanese sake or rice wine, produced in Nara Prefecture

Desserts in Nara

  1. Kuzumochi – jelly-like mochi made with Japanese arrowroot and eaten with brown sugar syrup and soybean flour
  2. Kuzukiri – Kudzu starch noodles with brown sugar
  3. Yomogi mochi – glutinous rice ball filled with red bean and covered with roasted soybean powder
  4. Kakigori – Japanese shaved ice dessert
  5. Persimmon Sweets – desserts made with persimmon

What and Where to Eat in Nara Japan

Nara Famous Food

1. Kakinoha-zushi 

What is Kakinoha-zushi: or persimmon leaf sushi. Salt-marinated mackerel placed on top of hand-pressed rice is wrapped in a persimmon leaf. It is one of Nara’s traditional local dishes. Other varieties include salmon, sea bream, shrimp, and eel.

Where to eat Kakinoha-zushi in Nara:

  1. Izasa-Nakatani-Hompo Yumekaze-Hiroba (11am-5pm) – the cafe on the second floor offers many set meals including steamed kakinoha-zushi, steamed chirashi-sushi, somen noodle, tempura and side dishes. You can get takeaway sushi on the first floor or at the takeout shop closer to both train stations.
  2. Hiraso (11:30am-8:30pm; closed Mondays) – sushi restaurant serving somen noodle, kakinoha-zushi and chagayu for lunch. The Suzaku lunch set comes with broiled mackerel, red snapper, persimmon leaf mackerel and salmon zushi, sesame tofu and miso soup.
  3. Kakinohazushi Hiraso Todaiji (9am-7pm) – get take-away sushi from this small shop near Kintetsu-Nara Station.
  4. Kakinohasushi Hompo Tanaka (9:30am-7pm) – takeaway or eat-in at this sushi shop. There are many outlets in Nara Prefecture, and two are in Nara City. The other is in front of the bus stop near Kintetsu-Nara Station.

2. Kamameshi

What is Kamameshi: or “kettle rice” is a Japanese rice dish cooked in an iron pot called Kama. First eat the rice and various ingredients. The heat of the iron pot continues to cook the rice until it gets a bit crunchy. Finally, add dashi broth to mix with the crunchy rice at the bottom of the pot.

Where to eat Kamameshi in Nara:

  1. Kamameshi Shizuka Kouen-ten (11am-4pm; closed Tuesdays) – try the Nara-nanashu Kamameshi (Nara specialty), which comes with shrimp, crab, conger eel, chicken, burdock, and mushroom. Or try the Yamato-nikudori Kamameshi (native chicken). Get a kettle rice by itself or a set. Order dash if you want to soak the rice with soup.
  2. Restaurant Naraya Todaiji (10am-4pm; closed Fridays) – they serve a variety of kamameshi sets.
  3. Grancha Kamameshi (11am-3pm; 4-8pm Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays & Fridays; 11am-8pm Saturdays & Sundays) – the restaurant upstairs from the mochi shop serves many kamameshi set meals.

3. Chagayu

What is Chagayu: green tea rice porridge. A simple dish with two ingredients: rice and tea. It is an excellent home-cooked dish that is good for any meal. And it is popular in Nara but can be found everywhere in Japan.

Where to eat Chagayu in Nara:

  1. Tou No Cha-Ya (11:30am-4pm; closed Tuesdays) – small restaurant specializing in chagayu kaiseki. I ordered the Chagayu plate for lunch and it comes with seasonal ingredients, chagayu and warabi mochi.
  2. Kasuga Ninai Jaya (10:30am-4pm; closed Tuesdays) – casual restaurant on the way to Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The cafe serves chaguyu, kakinoha-zushi, and kuzu mochi. Picture menu available.
  3. Todaiji Emado Chaya (11am-4pm) – udon restaurant near Todai-ji. Besides udon, they also serve chagayu, kakinoha-zushi and rice bowls.

3. Narazuke

What is Narazuke: Japanese pickles made with vegetables like gourd, cucumber, burdock root, white melon, daikon, and “Yamato Yasai” (Yamato Vegetable). These vegetables are marinated in sake lees, yeast deposits from fermentation. Since Nara is famous for their sake, Narazuke was born and continues to be a big part of the local cuisine.

Where to eat Narazuke in Nara:

  1. Ashibi no Sato Naramachi Main Store (11:30am-4:30pm Saturdays & Sundays) – they sell narazuke and offer narazuke set meals at the restaurant.
  2. Food souvenir stores – many shops on Higashimuki Shopping Street and in Yumekaze Plaza (near Todai-ji) sell narazuke.

Nara noodle dishes

1. Somen Noodle

What is Somen: or Miwa somen, is a thin, hand-stretched wheat flour noodle. It is usually served cold but hot somen is delicious too. It is the specialty of the Miwa region, which is south of Nara City.

Where to eat Somen Noodle in Nara:

  1. Surusuru (11:30am-2:30pm; closed Mondays, Tuesdays & Thursdays) – excellent set meals featuring cold and hot somen noodle. I ordered the cold somen which comes with two types of somen and two sea bream-based soup. Added a sea bream mixed rice too.
  2. Kan’eidō Main Shop (9am-8pm) – the confectionary shop has a cafe area at the back and they serve somen noodle set meal until 6:30pm.
  3. Somen Noodle Morisho (10am—4pm; closed Mondays and Tuesdays) – local somen noodle restaurant near Omiwa Jinja in Miwa, near the Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail. I had the hiyashi somen and three pieces of kakinoha-zushi. English menu available.

2. Tenri Ramen

What is Tenri Ramen: hot and spicy ramen with a soy sauce-based tonkotsu (pork bone) and chicken broth and topped with pork and Chinese cabbage. Originated in Tenri City in Nara Prefecture.

Where to eat Tenri Ramen in Nara:

  1. Tenri Stamina Ramen (11am-10:30pm Monday to Thursday; 11am-11:30pm Friday to Saturday; 11am-10pm Sundays) – the chain restaurant originated in Tenri and has many locations in Nara Prefecture. There is only one in Nara City and is conveniently located near Kintetsu-Nara Station.

3. Kudzu Udon

What is Kudzu Udon: thick udon noodles made from flour mixed with kudzu starch. The noodle is slightly thinner but it has similar texture as regular udon.

Where to eat Kudzu Udon in Nara:

  1. Tengyokudo Nara (天極堂) Main Shop (10am-7:30pm; closed Tuesdays) – the cafe near Todai-ji serves hot and cold kudzu udon and other kudzu-based Japanese desserts.
  2. Tengyokudo Nara (天極堂) JR Nara Station (10am-6pm) – the cafe has another location at JR Nara Station. The menu is slightly different. This location has kudzu udon with egg drop soup. The set comes with kudzu mochi and sesame tofu.

Other must eat food in Nara

1. Udon

  1. Mentouan (11am-3pm Fridays & Mondays; 11am-4pm Saturdays & Sundays) – a popular udon noodle house that serves udon in a tofu pouch. Get it with regular soup or curry soup. Go early or the wait is super long.

2. Nabe

  1. Nara Sakagura Nabe (11:30am-10pm) – try their famous Sakekasu Kurout Nabe, a hot pot that uses sake lees (sweet solids that remain after sake brewing) from a sake brewery in Nara for the soup stock.

Drinks in Nara

1. Yamato Tea

What is Yamato Tea: Nara is one of the major tea producers in Japan and the local tea, Yamato tea, is grown primarily in the Yamato Plateau, which is east of Nara City. There is a long history of Yamato tea – over 1200 years. 

Where to drink Yamato Tea in Nara:

  1. Cafes and restaurants in Nara – yamato tea is served at most cafes and restaurants in Nara.
  2. Souvenir shops – buy some tea leaves and enjoy yamato tea at home. Buy tea from food souvenir shops on Higashimuki Shopping Street, Yumekaze Plaza, food shops at Kintetsu-Nara Station and JR Nara Station.

2. Nihonshu

What is Nihonshu: or Japanese sake or rice wine. Because of the pure water sourced from local mountain ranges and high-quality rice grown around Nara, the sake produced in Nara Prefecture are some of the best in Japan. There are 29 sake breweries within Nara Prefecture and you can sample many of them within Nara City.

Where to drink Nihonshu in Nara:

  1. Nara Izumi Yūsai (11am-8pm; closed Thursdays) is a small liquor store selling Nara sake and offering sake tastings from ¥200. The menu is available in English, and the owner speaks a bit of English.
  2. Ogawa Matebe (3-7pm Monday to Friday & 10am-7pm Saturdays & Sundays) – a casual shop across from Gangoji Temple to sample local Nara sake and Japanese craft beers.
  3. Harushika Sake Brewery Store (10am-5pm) – visit this sake brewery, which was founded in the 19th century. You can sample 5 sakes for ¥500 and try narazuke with your sake flight.

Desserts in Nara

1 & 2. Kuzumochi and Kuzukiri

What is Kuzumochi: soft-textured jelly-like mochi is made kudzu powder, Japanese arrowroot produced in the Yoshino area. The gelatinous mochi is eaten with brown sugar syrup and soybean flour. It is a favourite dessert during summer in Nara.

What is Kuzukiri: thin and flat starch noodles made with kudzu powder. It is made by mixing this starch with water, heating it, and cutting the solid into fine noodles. Dip it in brown sugar syrup and enjoy.

Where to eat Kuzumochi and Kuzukiri in Nara:

  1. Sakura (10am-5pm; closed Wednesdays and Thursdays) – order a warm or chilled kuzu mochi set with or without matcha tea at this traditional Japanese dessert shop in Naramachi.
  2. Tengyokudo Nara (天極堂) Main Shop (10am-7:30pm; closed Tuesdays) – other than kudzu udon, they also have many types of kudzu desserts including kuzu mochi and kuzukiri. I got the special kuzukiri with red bean paste and mochi.
  3. Tengyokudo Nara (天極堂) JR Nara Station (10am-6pm) – besides kudzu udon, they have many kudzu-based desserts, including kuzu mochi and traditional kuzukiri with brown sugar.
  4. Kasuga Ninai Jyaya (10:30am-4pm; closed Tuesdays) – as mentioned above. This casual resto is a great spot for rest and kuzu mochi.
  5. Kan’eidō Main Shop (9am-8pm) – besides serving somen noodles, the confectionary shop also serves kuzukiri with brown sugar.

3. Yomogi Mochi

What is Yomogi Mochi: also called Kusa Mochi, it is a glutinous rice ball made from leaves of yomogi (Japanese mugwort), which gives the mochi the green colour. Inside the mochi is filled with azuki beans (red bean) and is covered with roasted soybean powder.

Where to eat Yomogi Mochi in Nara:

  1. Nakatanidou (10am-7pm) – watch the exciting high speed mochi pounding process. They make a fresh batch of mochi every hour but go early to grab a spot for the “show”.
  2. Yamatochadaifuku Grancha (10am-7pm) – a popular dessert shop for matcha mochi. They also have yamato tea mochi.

4. Kakigori

What is Kakigori: Japanese shaved-ice dessert. Nara City is home to Himuro Shrine, which is dedicated to the god of ice. The city also hosts an annual snow festival, with many vendors selling different fluffy shaved-ice treats.

Where to eat Kakigori in Nara:

  1. Salon Naramachi (10am-6:30pm) – known for its matcha green tea. You can also get the kakigori with matcha in the beautiful tea house in Naramachi.
  2. Hosekibako (10am-12:50pm & 2-5pm; closed Thursdays) – choose one of many Instagrammable kakigori with local ingredients. Picture menu available.
  3. Nanairo Fruits (12-5:30pm) – many fruit desserts, including kakigori.
  4. Horiuchi-kajitsuen (10am-7pm) – a dessert shop on Sanjo Dori Street. Enjoy fruit smoothies, sandwiches, fruit parfait or kakigori.

5. Persimmon Sweets

What is Persimmon Sweets: or Kaki in Japanese. The climate and soil condition in Nara Prefecture is ideal for growing persimmon which makes this sweet fruit one of the signature agricultural products in the area and the largest producer in Japan. Because of the abundance of persimmon in Nara, many persimmon-flavoured sweets are made.

Where to eat Persimmon Sweets in Nara:

  1. Ishii Sweets (10am-7pm) – the shop sells many types of persimmon sweets, including dried persimmons, monaka wafers with persimmon paste, and other products like cookies, jam, vinegar, and even persimmon butter. 
  2. Kakisuga Main Shop (9am-5pm; closed Tuesdays) – the little confectionary shop exclusively sells dried persimmon wrapped around yuzu citrus peel. It can stay good in fridge for 2 months or 6 months in freezer.

Looking for tours around Nara? Check out these experiences:

Which must-eat food in Nara are you most excited to try?

Even if you spend only a day in Nara, you can try most of these famous foods. If you want to try everything, I highly recommend staying overnight or a few days so you can really dive into the culinary scene in Nara.

So, the big question is, which Nara must-eat food are you going to try? Let me know in the comments below. And if you find other excellent places to eat in Nara that are not on this list, let me know as well.

Thank you for reading my Nara Food Guide

You might also like these other posts on solo travel in Japan and food around the world:

Introduction to Japan

Kansai region

Food around the world

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About Author

Hi, my name is Queenie, and I've been a solo traveller for 20+ years and currently based in Hong Kong. Follow me on my adventures through Instagram and my blog!

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