As anyone who lives here knows, Japanese trends cycle extremely quickly. What's all the rage now could just as easily be forgotten next month, or sooner. Within such a restless society, anything that can establish itself as more than just a fad is worth paying attention to, all the more so now that we live in the era of accessibility. Given the gradual but undeniable westernization of so many aspects of Japanese life, from clothing to food to music, things Japanesque are being rediscovered by the young generation as a unique alternative to the mass produced goods inherent to capitalism. These confection makers in Kyoto have kept their clientele across generations and show us the value of consistent, quality hand made sweets.
Ubudama (Kameya Yoshinaga)
This okashi has been available since 1803 (over 200 years!) and won't be disappearing anytime soon. It's essentially a sphere of anko (red bean paste) with a glossy syrup, named after a line in classic poetry about the author's black hair to describe the color of the pastry. The actual color is more of a reddish brown, possibly due to the added brown sugar. The secret to the flavor, according to the makers, is using local well water during the cooking process.
The shop itself has a history as deep as their products and has renewed its look while retaining the original baking methods (the new store was erected in 1991). They are currently collaborating with well known Japanese fashion company SOU SOU, recognizable for their simple flower patterns, and selling pouches to go along with their sweets.
A box of six Ubudamas can be had for around ￥500. They have many other delicious looking products as well so a quick look at their website could be worth your time.
Matsukaze (Kameya Mutsu)
Supposedly originating in the late 16th century, this okashi might be mistaken for focaccia at first glance. Don't be fooled, this is a longstanding Kyoto classic dessert with a sweetness that expands as you chew. A romanticized story surrounds Matsukaze. Legend has it that it was developed for general Oda Nobunaga and became a staple for his army. The name literally translates to "pine wind," appropriate considering that you can taste the winds of history through this seemingly simple snack.
Kameya Mutsu, the shop that makes and sells Matsukaze, arose to supply Honganji, the temple central to Nobunaga's estate. This is about as closely intertwined with history as a dessert can get. A box of 16 pieces costs around ￥1000, or you can get a full roll with a traditional wrapping for ￥3700.
Murasakino Miso Matsukaze (Matsuya Tokiwa)
A variation of Matsukaze which uses miso on its top layer, leading to a deeper color which may be the basis for the name (meaning purple). The Murasakino type is only sold by the loaf, so diners can cut it to their liking. Matsuya Tokiwa, the shop where it's sold, was established an astonishing 350 years ago. The Murasakino Miso Matsukaze is their sole product and there is no showcase; it's very much a surviving remnant from another time. This delicacy can be had for a mere ￥800, but placing an order in advance is recommended.
Dorayaki (Sasaya Iori)
Common dorayaki, the favored snack of the cartoon robot-cat Doraemon, generally comes in the shape of a bun. This particular shop, however, offers an exquisite rolled version of dorayaki to be cut and eaten in slices. The outer layer is somewhere between bread and mochi, providing a chewy dining experience. The recipe is a well kept secret.
The owner of the shop was originally requested to make a snack for the local monks, but his dorayaki became so popular with the townspeople that he decided to only make it available on the 21st of each month, lest he drown in a sea of orders. Thanks to the modern availability of more materials and manpower, they are now sold a whopping three days a month (sarcasm intended)! You can order a roll for ￥1500 on the 20th, 21st, or 22nd of each month.
Seijyo Kankidan (Kameya Kiyonaga)
This confection in the shape of a tied-up sack is purported to be 1000 years old! While definitive proof may be hard to find, it's a fact that the shop offering them was established in 1617. The outer coating is made of both standard flour and rice flour, then filled with anko and fried in sesame oil to completion. It has such an interesting appearance that you may feel reluctant to bite into one, but once you do you will discover the defining 'seven seasonings' which make up the anko contained inside. The shop recommends lightly reheating before eating to maximize the experience. A single Seijyo Kankidan costs ￥500, so you'll want to savor every bite!
Ajari Mochi (Mangetsu)
Mangetsu, meaning "full moon," was established in 1856, and from their inception to this day they have been making just four types of sweets. The ajari mochi is their poster child, another anko filled dessert with a coating that doesn't quite look like mochi, probably due to the added eggs and rice flour. The result almost looks like a small, thick pancake. Mangetsu's other three creations all use anko as well but end up with distinctive tastes due to the use of different types of azuki beans. A single ajari mochi only costs ￥100, so you probably won't feel guilty for buying a box of 10.
Karaita (Mizuta Gyokuundo)
By far the simplest confection on this list, the karaita has been the sole product sold by its maker since the store was founded in 1477. Put simply, it's a sweetened biscuit, thin and crispy. No mochi, anko, sesame seeds or any of the other ingredients so representative of traditional Japanese pastries are present. Just what is it about this little cracker that has pleased patrons for well over five decades? After the original owners rediscovered the recipe (it had been lost during a revolt) and started making them for the neighboring shrine, karaita came to be known as a charm that would ward off bad luck or evil spirits.
So if you're interested in digging deep into Japan's past, a trip to Goryo Jinja followed by a sampling of this enigmatic okashi is in line.