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Japanese Sweets: 3 Insanely Popular Kyoto Warabi-Mochi Shops! Delectable, Plump Bracken-starch Dumplings

Japanese Sweets: 3 Insanely Popular Kyoto Warabi-Mochi Shops! Delectable, Plump Bracken-starch Dumplings

Date published: 8 October 2019

What traditional Japanese sweet should you eat when you visit Kyoto? The answer to that is warabi-mochi - bracken-starch dumplings. The dumplings are simply made by kneading bracken-root flour, water, and sugar together, but it is the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the craftsman that determines whether they taste good or not. Kyoto is home to some of the most skilled traditional sweets craftsmen in the country and it is here where, using the underground spring water, the most delicious warabi-mochi in the country is made. In this article we introduce the three most popular shops for it.

1. Yukei Salon De The: Leisurely enjoy the taste of a very exclusive ryokan that is loved by overseas VIPs

Yukei Salon De The is a cafe located a 5-minute walk south of the Kyoto Municipal Subway Tozai Line Kyoto City Hall Station. The shop is operated by the luxury inn Tawaraya Ryokan.

Tawaraya Ryokan is a long-established inn that is well-known for its celebrities in Japan and overseas, including Hirofumi Ito, who served as the first Prime Minister, and Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple. Even in Kyoto, where there are many historical inns, it is in a class all of its own.

When greeting guests who are enamored with this inn, they are treated with its popular warabi-mochi and it is this which has attracted people of all generations, from the young to the old, since the cafe opened in 2007.

▲ It is located near the intersection of Fuyacho-dori, which passes from north to south, and Aneyakoji-dori, which passes from east to west. The cafe has a modern, white exterior and is located next to the Tawaraya Ryokan

The interior of the shop, which is a refurbished merchant house over 100 years old, has been decorated with Scandinavian furniture and the art collection of the inn's master, Toshi Sato, is displayed throughout. Each with its own unique character blends harmoniously with the other creating a sophisticated atmosphere.

▲ In the back of the shop is a blue chair designed by the Scandinavian furniture designer, the late Finn Juhl. Reportedly some visitors come specifically to see this chair!

Toshi-san explained her inspiration for opening this cafe. "I wanted to provide a way for those not visiting our inn to also enjoy this sweet." The signature Tawaraya Warabi-mochi is made using only the bracken-root flour, the pure spring water of the Tawaraya Ryokan, and brown sugar.

▲ Tawaraya Warabi-mochi and Matcha (2,260 yen). In addition, the warabi-mochi can be ordered with either sencha [green tea] or hojicha [roasted green tea] (2,050 yen). Cute Wazanbon sugar dried candy in the shape of tawara [straw bags] representing the name of the inn comes with it.

The warabi-mochi is served in a cool, green bamboo cylinder and liberally dusted with kinako [roasted soybean flour]. It is so soft that when you try to lift it with chopsticks it begins to ooze away and just looking at it you can imagine how it will melt in your mouth.

▲ The warabi-mochi is so soft that it trembles with the slightest movement of the hand when held with chopsticks. One is tempted to eat it very quickly.

Once you bring it to your mouth, the wonderfully chilled mochi with its rich, sweet brown sugar flavor and kinako aroma slowly spreads over your tongue. Swallowing the slightly springy and delicately soft mochi I unconsciously let out a sigh of satisfaction!

When I asked Ms. Ako Ishii, one of the staff, how this unique taste was created, she replied that, "the master and head chef spent more than a year experimenting until they finally perfected it." The kitchen staff put their souls into the making of the warabi-mochi which is done in the kitchen of the inn every day.

▲ Sandwich with either coffee or tea (1,850 yen). The sandwich in the photo contains egg and tuna; only the tuna is on toasted bread.

Another popular menu item is this sandwich. This is an original sandwich created and personally made by Toshi-san's late husband, the photographer Y. Ernest Satow, for overseas VIP guests staying at the inn.

There are two types. One is an egg sandwich and the other is a choice of either tuna, ham, or bacon. The sandwich is seasoned with homemade mayonnaise made with slight hints of basil, parsley, and other herbs taken from the inn's vegetable garden, that gives the sandwich a deeper flavor. The egg is so soft it appears to be about to crumble, the finely chopped onions have a wonderful crunchiness, the herbs giving the mellow mayonnaise a refreshing accent...all of this in one sandwich is indeed a work of art and most satisfying.

▲ The soft, fluffy texture and complex flavors are uniquely original and unparalleled.

I felt especially fortunate in being able to sample this elegant sandwich which normally is served only to foreign VIP guests, such as actors, musicians, and journalists.

Reservations are not necessary for the cafe, unlike the Tawaraya Ryokan which requires them. You can also have a look at the mossy courtyard at the rear of the shop. Why not come and experience for yourself the exquisite flavor of the warabi-mochi and other dishes of the Tawaraya Ryokan?

  • Yukei Salon De The
    遊形サロン・ド・テ
    • Address 288-14 Nakahakusanchō, Nakagyō-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
    • Phone Number 075-212-8883

    Hours: 11:00 a.m. ~ 6:00 p.m.
    Closed: Tuesday

2. Saryo Hosen: Enjoy a moment of bliss while admiring an elegant Japanese garden

From the bus terminal directly connected to the Kyoto Municipal Subway Kitaoji Station, take the municipal bus Kita 8, 204, or 206 and get off at the Shimogamo Higashihonmachi stop. At the corner of a residential area, you will find Saryo Hosen which looks like an exclusive Japanese-style restaurant.

▲ The just-watered entrance has a clean appearance

If you are looking for warabi-mochi in Kyoto then you will find it here at the Hosendo Japanese confectionery with the signboard out front announcing "Azuki Place". This is a highly acclaimed shop lovers of traditional Japanese sweets are eager to visit. Here you can savor the shop's proud selection of sweets while admiring the view of a beautiful Japanese garden.

▲ The view of the well-maintained and beautiful Japanese garden from the interior of the building that is more than 100 years old. All the seating is on tatami mats

The signature menu item warabi-mochi is handmade only after it has been ordered. It contains no preservatives or additives and is made only with bracken-starch flour, water, and sugar carefully kneaded together. It takes about 15 minutes to make from the time it is ordered. The view of the garden before your eyes is very relaxing and makes the time go by very quickly.

▲ Sitting and admiring the quiet tranquility of the lush garden is one of the salient features of this shop

Once the warabi-mochi has been made the shop manager Tomofumi Furuta personally delivers it.

▲ Warabi-mochi (1,300 yen). It’s best to eat it as soon as it is served because it loses it shape the longer it sits.

Keeping that in mind I immediately picked one up with my chopsticks and admired its elasticity! Each plump warabi-mochi was bite-sized, the sensation of its shiny surface on my tongue was amazing. The unique aroma of the bracken flour accentuated by the bamboo leaf on which it is served was tantalizing.

▲ The air bubbles contained in the mochi are caused by the dough being kneaded quickly in a short time. It is also delicious when topped with dark molasses

The final pleasure is the sensation when swallowing it. The sweetness lingers even as it goes down smoothly. It is the fine attention and care that goes into its creation that makes it so perfect.

▲ The azuki beans of the Dainagon Zenzai (1,150 yen) are not only sweet but look delicious, too.

Even in Kyoto, where so many Japanese confectionery shops are found from long-established shops to new ones, there are only a limited few that steam red beans to make their own red bean paste. One such store, Hosendo, carefully selects and uses the highest quality Tamba Dainagon, which is procured from the country’s top azuki bean production area, the Hikami region of Tamba, and used in the making of coarse sweet red bean paste.
Hosendo, true to being an “azuki place”, we ordered the Dainagon Zenzai made with its homemade coarse sweet red bean paste.

Zenzai is a Japanese sweet served in a bowl, made of azuki red beans, sweetened with sugar, and mochi, and at Hosendo the coarse sweet red bean paste is immersed in syrup and topped with shiratama (rice-flour dumplings), in a simple yet tasteful manner. The delicious flavor of the red beans is evident in the visual presentation arranged by the shop owner. One spoonful of the delicious coarse bean jam and you directly feel the flavor gradually unfolding.

▲ This is a must for coarse sweet red bean paste lovers. The texture of the plump, cooked azuki beans is indescribable.

The syrup is not cloudy because it is exquisitely cooked so as not to break the delicate red bean skin, but to make it as plump as possible. This skill is a trade secret that has been honed by Hosendo through long years of working with azuki beans.

It is not possible to make reservations, so please keep in mind that on weekends and mid-afternoons there usually is a line waiting to get in. We recommend going right after the shop opens.

  • Saryo Hosen
    茶寮 宝泉
    • Address 25 Shimogamo Nishitakagichō, Sakyō-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
    • Phone Number 075-712-1270

    Open: 10:00 a.m. ~ 5:00 p.m. (L.O. 4:45 p.m.)
    Closed: Wednesday, Thursday (if either day falls on a public holiday, open for business as usual and closed the following day)

3. Gion Tokuya: Warabi-mochi in the geisha quarter that’s loved by geisha and maiko

Among the entertainment districts in Kyoto Gion is exceptionally lively. Gion Tokuya is located along the Hanamikoji lane in the center of Gion, an area just a 3-minute walk from the Keihin Main Line Gion Shijo Station.

▲ This is a good place for taking a break during your sightseeing. Geisha and maiko often have it delivered to them (no delivery service for general customers)

Since the shop opened in 2003 the owner, Shogo Yamauchi, has been offering a number of simple items based on the concept of these being nostalgic treats favored by his grandparents' generation. The shop uses only natural ingredients, such as pure bracken-starch flour for the warabi-mochi , pure arrowroot flour from Yoshino for the kuzumochi [arrowroot cake], and rice cakes that can be enjoyed grilled on tabletop stoves.

▲ Table seating and tatami mat seating (private room)

One of the most popular items on the menu is the Tokuya Hon Warabi-mochi . It is made with domestically produced bracken starch, water, and sugar mixed with Wazanbon sugar and made only after it has been ordered.

▲ Tokuya Hon Warabi-mochi (1,200 yen) with dark molasses and kinako. In order to keep it chilled, the warabi-mochi is layered around a round ball of shaved ice in the center

The warabi-mochi is delivered to your table not long after you order it. First taste it without dipping it in anything. It is so soft that it takes a bit of effort to pick it up with the chopsticks, but once you do and taste it, the plump and juicy flavor is a delight.

After that first bite, next try dipping it in the dark molasses and after that try it with kinako that comes in the shape of a plum blossom.

The kinako, which is a unique blend of deep roasted and light roasted types and Japanese Wazanbon sugar, will surprise you with its fragrant and deep taste. Furthermore, you can mix the dark molasses and kinako to your own preference, which is a nice touch.

▲ Place a warabi-mochi on a separate plate and garnish it as you like with the kinako and dark molasses. Mr. Yamauchi advises using both the dark molasses and kinako.

After you have eaten the warabi-mochi you can mix the remaining dark molasses and kinako and enjoy it poured over the ball of shaved ice. Ice from the Torii Ice Company of Gion is used. The ice from that shop is used in all Gion Tokuya dishes, such as the Special Matcha Uji Kintoki (1,300 yen). The shopkeeper especially likes the fine texture.

By the way, the reason why the eight warabi-mochi are arranged in a round bowl is because the shop is located in the entertainment district called Gion Kobu, which uses for its crest eight dumplings connected in a circle. It's a stylish presentation uniquely suited to a shop in the entertainment district.

▲ Beautiful dark green Omatcha Hon Kuzumochi (1,200 yen)

I recommend the Omatcha Hon Kuzumochi. The matcha used comes from the Ryuoen Chaho, which is operated by the family of the proprietress of the famous, old Gion tea house Ichiriki-tei. Yoshino authentic arrowroot flour, which is very highly valued and of the highest quality, is used in the kuzumochi. It seems that only 30 servings per day can be offered because of the time and effort that goes into its careful preparation.

The result is its strong elasticity evident when it is jiggled, not to mention the masterful harmonious touch of tartness following the rich, sweet flavor of the matcha. This is a dish I could definitely eat all day.

▲ Hanamikoji bustles with tourists seeking its Kyoto-like atmosphere

Due to its excellent location it is busy on both weekdays and holidays, so it is better to enter the shop right after it opens. Take a break while watching the people coming and going from the second-floor seating that is rare in Hanamikoji restaurants.

  • Gion Tokuya
    ぎおん徳屋
    • Address 570-127 Gionmachi, Minamigawa, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture
    • Phone Number 075-561-5554

    Hours: 12:00 p.m. ~ 6:00 p.m. *Shop closes when all sold out
    Closed: Open daily

Kyoto's exquisite warabi-mochi is made with the finest ingredients!

Kyoto's exquisite warabi-mochi is made with the finest ingredients!
▲ The flavor of warabi-mochi together with the unique atmosphere of Kyoto is exceptional (photo shows the Senbon Torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine)

The bracken flour used in all of the shops introduced above is made domestically. The prices are high because of the limited availability of the ingredients as only the finest quality are used in the making of Japanese sweets, so for that reason, because they are so exclusively hard to come by, it does force some traditional sweets shops to use alternative ingredients.

The reason for doing that without hesitation stems from a sincere desire to enable customers to savor the flavor of real warabi-mochi that can only be achieved by using authentic bracken flour.

Not only in the selection of the ingredients, but the sincere effort and time devoted to the making of warabi-mochi make it a treat that will further heighten your experiences in the ancient city of Kyoto.

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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