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.

See, because sparrows are such slight creatures, you can’t really remove the meat from the body before skewering. Nope, you pretty much just have to split the bird, spear it with the stick, and get to grilling.

The sparrow is seasoned with a sweet soy-based sauce, but underneath is the unmistakable flavor of…something. “It doesn’t resemble any other kind of meat I’ve ever eaten,” says Mai, though she could at least verbalize that it’s “uniquely gamey.”

Also worth noting is the texture, With relatively little fat content, sparrow meat crisps up much more than chicken does during grilling, and ends up with a crunchy texture.

It’s not particularly cheap, either. Notoyo charges 450 yen (US$4.15) per skewer, which is about two or three times what you’d pay for some standard chicken yakitori. The staff told us this is because sparrow meat is harder to come by than chicken these days, though we can’t help but feel there’s also a bit of price inelasticity of demand at play too. After all, it’s fear, not finances, that are keeping most people from eating sparrow.

Besides, it’s not like 450 yen is an unaffordable price for what, for most people, is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime eating experience, and once you’re done, no one will be able to call you unadventurous even if you head straight to Kyoto’s Shake Shack for a matcha green tea milk shake.

Shop information
Kawazakana Notoyo / 川魚 のとよ
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Nakagyo-ky, Nishikikojidori Kogomachi Nishiiru Kajiyacho 216-2
Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he salutes his nephew’s courage in also eating a sparrow while in Kyoto.

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