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Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

While Tokyo’s famous sweets are often adaptations of Western imports—baumkuchen, castella, cream puffs—Kyoto is the destination for trying the true old-school Japanese classics: Kyo wagashi.

  • When sugar and tea started to flow from the Chinese mainland in the 9th century, the Japanese borrowed the tradition of pairing sweet treats with mugs of tea. Over the millennium that followed, Kyoto sweets came to form their own tradition. Often made from mochi (pounded glutinous rice), chestnut, kinako (roasted whole soy flour), anko (red bean paste), and matcha (powdered green tea), these sweets are the perfect foil for a bracing mug of bitter green tea. In Kyoto, offerings range from delicate creations crafted and presented with artisanal devotion to more rustic and simple presentations.

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Tsuruya Yoshinobu has a centuries-long history and is known in particular for its artisanal namagashi, made-to-order sweets. The main location in Kyoto is divided into two floors: a shop on the first floor and a cafe on the second. The cafe’s counter seating gives diners the opportunity to watch masters of the form assemble intricate creations out of jellied fruit, bean paste, and mochi.

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    The shop’s displays changefrequently and reflect Tsuruya Yoshinobu’s seasonal approach, producing wagashifrom the products of the season and according to local festivals and holidays. No matter the season, the most popular item in the shop is always the yuzu and mochi balls, a pearl of yuzu paste wrapped in light threads of dyed-green mochi—these are now available in shops in Tokyo and elsewhere, but don’t miss the opportunity to pick them up at the source.

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Within walking distance of Kiyomizudera and the alleyways of Gion, theKasagiya tea shop in Higashiyama occupies an unassuming traditional home at the top of Sannenzaka. This is perhaps the ideal stop after sampling the high-toned confections of Tsuruya Yoshinobu, as it represents the simpler, homier side of Kyoto sweets. Kasagiya is one of innumerable tea shops in the city, but its history—it celebrated its centennial in 2014—and quality have earned it nationwide fame.

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    The best option is one of the sets that usually include sweetened coarse red bean paste, mochi, a kinako treat, and a cup of matcha. In cooler months, the sweetened red bean soup with grilled mochi is perfect; when Kyoto is sweltering in midsummer, the shop’s take on kakigori, a shaved ice dessert, is the way to go.

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Before heading up to Arashiyama Bamboo Forest or Okochi Sanso, stop by the delightful eX Cafe for a modern take on the Kyoto sweet tradition. The ingredients in the sweets are reflective of the seasons and feature traditional components employed in startling ways, like the bamboo charcoal incorporated in the sponge cake Kyoto Kuro Roll, or—yes, not technically a sweet—green tea soba carbonara.

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Sampling the Sweet Shops of Kyoto

    Not to be overlooked are the grilled and glazed Kyo dango, dumplings similar to mochi. In many of the alleys leading to temples and shrines are shops selling Kyo dango or mitarashi dango. A skewer of dango with a syrupy glaze is a chewy, sweet confection that makes the perfect snack while strolling between temples in a traditional neighborhood.

    Kasagiya
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Higashiyama-ku Masuyachou 349
    Phone
    0755619562
    Chikurinnomichi
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Ukyou-ku Sagaogurayamatabuchiyamachou
    Phone
    Okochi Sanso Gardens
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Ukyou-ku Sagaogurayama Tabuchi Yamachi 8
    Phone
    0758722233
  • eX cafe Kyoto Arashiyama Main Store
    Address
    Kyoto Kyoutoshi Ukyou-ku Sagatenryujitsukurimichichou 35-3
    Phone
    0758826366
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