Nara is known for many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, temples and shrines, and adorable wild deers. But many visitors may not know that there are quite a bit of unique local Nara food specialties that you should not miss. And many of these Nara famous food can be found in the centre of the city and around major tourist attractions.
I spent some time researching about the all the unique Nara food and spent a few days 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 and slow travel around the quaint city and eat 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 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
And when you scroll down, I include a more extended explanation for each Nara food and where you can find the local food. I 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
- Kakinoha-zushi – or persimmon leaf sushi
- Chagayu – green tea rice porridge
- Narazuke – Japanese pickles made with local vegetables and sake lees
Nara Noodle Dishes
- Somen Noodle – thin, hand-stretched wheat flour noodle served cold or hot
- Tenri Ramen – hot and spicy ramen with soy sauce, tonkotsu and chicken broth and topped with pork and Chinese cabbage
Drinks in Nara
- Yamato Tea – tea grown in the Yamato Pleateau, east of Nara City
- Nihonshu – Japanese sake or rice wine, produced in Nara Prefecture
Desserts in Nara
- Kuzumochi – jelly-like mochi made with Japanese arrowroot and is eaten with brown sugar syrup and soybean flour
- Yomogi mochi – glutinous rice ball filled with red bean and covered with roasted soybean powder
- Kakigori – Japanese shaved-ice dessert
- Persimmon Sweets – desserts made with persimmon
What and Where to Eat in Nara Japan
Nara Famous Food
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. There are other varieties including salmon, sea bream, shrimp, and eel.
Where to eat Kakinoha-zushi in Nara:
- Izasa-Nakatani-Hompo Yumekaze-Hiroba (11am-4pm) – cafe on the second floor offers many set meals including steamed kakinoha-zushi, steamed chirashi-sushi, somen noodle, tempura and side dishes.
- Hiraso (10am-8:30pm; closed Mondays) – sushi restaurant serving somen noodle, kakinoha-zushi and chagayu for lunch. I ordered the Suzaku lunch set which comes with broiled mackerel, red snapper, and persimmon leaf mackerel and salmon zushi, sesame tofu and miso soup.
- Hiramune (平宗) (11:30am-4pm & 4:45-9pm) – next door to Hirsao is another regional Japanese restaurant serving kakinoha-zushi.
- Kakinohasushi Hompo Tanaka (9:30am-7pm) – take-away or eat-in at this sushi shop. There are many outlets in Nara Prefecture and two are in Nara City.
- Kakinohazushi Hiraso Todaiji (10:30am-6pm) – get take-away sushi from this small shop.
What is Chagayu: green tea rice porridge. A simple dish with two ingredients: rice and tea. A home-cooked dish that is excellent for any meal. The dish is popular in Nara but can be found everywhere in Japan.
Where to eat Chagayu in Nara:
- 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.
- 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.
- Todaiji Emado Chaya (11am-4pm) – udon restaurant near Todai-ji. Besides udon, they also serve chagayu, kakinoha-zushi and rice bowls.
- Yamatochadaifuku Grancha (10am-7pm) – besides desserts, the cafe also serves a cold chagayu set with grilled salmon and 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:
- Ashibi no Sato Naramachi Main Store (11:30am-4:30pm Saturdays & Sundays) – they sell narazuke and offer narazuke set meals on the weekend.
- 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:
- Somen Noodle Morisho (10:40am—3:30pm; closed Mondays and Tuesdays) – local somen noodle restaurant near Omiwa Jinja in Miwa, which is near the beginning part of the Yamanobe-no-Michi Trail. I had the hiyashi somen and 3 pieces of kakinoha-zushi. English menu available.
- Miwanosato Ikegawa (10am-4pm; closed Thursdays & Fridays) – another somen restaurant near Omiwa Jinja. This was my back-up restaurant open if the first one was not available. They have lots of somen noodle and traditional sweets on the menu. Use Google Translate to read menu or look at the photos.
- Fukujindo (10am-4:30pm) – this was my back-up back-up option in Miwa. They serve somen noodle, kakinoha-zushi, udon, donburi set and kakigori. 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:
- 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.
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:
- Cafes and restaurants in Nara – yamato tea is served at most cafes and restaurants in Nara.
- 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.
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:
- Nara Izumi Yūsai (11am-8pm; closed Thursdays) – small liquor store selling Nara sake and offering sake tastings from ￥200. English menu available and owner speaks a bit of English.
- Ogawa Matebe (3-7pm Monday to Friday & 10am-7pm Saturdays & Sundays) – a casual shop across from Gangoji Temple for sampling local Nara sake.
- Harushika Sake Brewery Store (10am-5pm) – visit this sake brewery which was founded in the 19th century. And you can sample 5 sakes for ￥500 and try narazuke with your sake flight.
Desserts in Nara
1. Kuzu Mochi
What is Kuzu Mochi: soft-textured jelly-like mochi is made with Japanese arrowroot produced in Yoshino area. The gelatinous mochi is eaten with brown sugar syrup and soybean flour. A favourite dessert during summer in Nara.
Where to eat Kuzu Mochi in Nara:
- Sakura (10am-5pm; closed Wednesdays and Thursdays) – order a warm or chilled kuzu mochi set with or without matcha tea at this tradtional Japanese dessert shop in Naramachi.
- Tengyokudo Nara Main Shop (10am-7:30pm; closed Tuesdays) – casual Japanese restaurant serving udon set meals and kuzu mochi. There’s also a smaller shop at shopping centre at JR Nara Station. And you can buy the packaged version to take home.
- Kasuga Ninai Jyaya (10:30am-4pm; closed Tuesdays) – as mentioned above. This casual resto is a great spot for a bit of rest and kuzu mochi.
2. 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:
- 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”.
- Yamatochadaifuku Grancha (10am-7pm) – as mentioned above. After trying chagayu at the cafe, buy some yomogi mochi home, including matcha mochi and yamato tea mochi.
What is Kakigori: Japanese shaved-ice dessert. Nara City is home to Himuro Shrine which is dedicated to the god of ice and the city hosts an annual snow festival with many vendors selling different fluffy shaved-ice treats.
Where to eat Kakigori in Nara:
- Hosekibako (10am-12:50pm & 2-5pm; closed Thursdays) – choose one of many Instagrammable kakigori with local ingredients. Picture menu available.
- Salon Naramachi (10am-7pm) – try the original white kakigori, matcha tea or other sweets in a gorgeous tea house. Or you can take a course and learn more about traditional tea ceremony.
- Kotonoma Akari (2-7pm Mondays, Wednesday to Friday; 12-7pm Saturdays & Sundays) – lots of dessert options at this cafe including many types of kakigori. English menu available.
4. 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. And because of the abundance of persimmon in Nara, many persimmon flavoured sweets are made.
Where to eat Persimmon Sweets in Nara:
- 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.
- 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 are spending only a day in Nara, it is possible to try most of these famous food in Nara. 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 found other excellent places to eat in Nara that are not part of this list, let me know as well.
Thank you for reading my Nara Food Guide
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