You can buy, and eat, a grilled sparrow on the streets of Kyoto, so we did【Taste test】

A local Kyoto recipe like no other.

Kyoto has a reputation for having some of the best food in Japan, and with good reason. The city’s dedication to meticulous craftsmanship extends to the culinary arts, with local delicacies including pressed mackerel sushi, tofu hot pot with bonito stock, and a variety of small dishes called obanzai that are made with locally harvested vegetables.

If you want to, though, you can skip all that and do what our reporter Mai did on her recent trip to Kyoto, and just straight up eat a sparrow.

▼ Mai, about to bravely pass up the opportunity to dine at Kyoto’s all-you-can-eat sushi breakfast buffet in order to eat a sparrow

Don’t feel like you have to turn in your Japanese cuisine foodie card if you didn’t know that some people eat sparrow in Japan. While it was more common long ago, economic prosperity and production improvements have brought the price of chicken down to a point where there’s really no economic incentive to eat sparrow instead, and Kyoto Prefecture is just about the only place where you can find sparrow being sold as food. For example, vendors sell it in the town of Fushimi, where one merchant told us that the tradition is continued because the deity of Fushimi Inari Shrine is the Shinto god of rice, and sparrows, which will eat the rice seeds before they can grow into mature plants, are seen as animal non grata. But you can find sparrow within Kyoto City itself, too, and Mai tracked the mysterious meat down at the city’s Nishiki Market shopping street, right in the middle of downtown.

The fish/butcher shop Notoyo sells sparrow kushiaki-style, meaning skewered and grilled. Technically, this puts Notoyo’s sparrow in the same classification of food as yakitori chicken skewers, one of the least intimidating types of Japanese food, but sparrow kushiyaki is definitely not for the faint of heart.

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