5 treats to pick up in Kyoto
Kyoto is famous for its rich culture and history as one of Japan’s ancient capitals, its refined aesthetics as the birthplace of Japanese tea ceremony, and for its cuisine. After visiting Kyoto and enjoying all it has to offer, it’s nice to bring back reminders of one’s experiences and some gifts to share with others. Why not take back some of Kyoto’s unique flavors and food culture back with you? Ranging from matcha-flavored cakes to traditional Japanese sweets, take a look at our top 5 picks for Kyoto sweets below! Each item is well-loved by the people of Kyoto and will make for wonderful souvenir gifts.
1. Teramachi Vanilla Custard with Caramel Sauce by Murakami Kaishindo
Though established in the Teramachi Nijo area of Kyoto in 1907, Murakami Kaishindo currently features a more modern look. The shop sells Western style sweets, and their popular products include seasonal summer orange jelly and tinned cookies. In 2015, a new product was introduced to their line-up after a 35-year hiatus: Teramachi Vanilla Pudding. (Though labeled as pudding or “purin”, Japanese-style pudding is more similar to the Western caramel custard or flan, hence our referring to this dessert as custard.)
This decadent and creamy custard is currently creating quite the stir due to it melting in your mouth with just the right sweetness. It can be purchased for 460 yen and pairs nicely with a buttery madeleine.
Location: Murakami Kaishindo
Address: 62 Tokiwagi-cho, Teramachi-dori Nijo-agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 10:00 – 18:00
Holiday: Sundays, national holidays, 3rd Monday of the month
2. Cha no Ka Okoicha Langue de Chat by Kyoto Kitayama Malebranche
Kyoto is famous for matcha, so matcha-flavored sweets are another wonderful option for souvenirs! 10 years ago, a professional tea expert, a green tea grower, and Malebranche’s patissier combined their skills to release Malebranche’s latest Cha no Ka sweets. Cookies made with koicha, a rich matcha powder, sandwich a creamy white chocolate filling. The balance between their slightly bitter aroma and sweetness is perfection.
Among Kyoto’s many gift and sweet options, these langue de chat cookies are regarded as champions. Buy a box to give as a present (or even as a gift to yourself); a set of 16 cookies comes at 2,020 yen before tax. The aftertaste of these cookies leaves quite the impression, and will definitely have you coming back for more.
Location: Kyoto Kitayama Malebranche
Address: Kitamonzen, Shokubutsu-en, Kitayama-dori, Kita-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 9:00 – 20:00 (Salon 10:00 – 20:00, last order 19:30)
Holiday: No holidays
3. Baumkuchen from Kiyomizu Kyo-Baum
In the matcha boom that is sweeping through the world of sweets, Kyo-Baum stands out as a highly-praised baumkuchen that admirably combines the flavors of both Japan and Europe. The moist rich cake shaped like a ring features a two color design. The green layers are flavored with a blend of matcha made from tea leaves grown in Uji, while the white portion is made with soy milk.
This baumkuchen’s well rounded yet delicate flavor pairs well with both tea and coffee. A 3.5 cm wide cake comes to 1,166 yen, while the larger 5.25 cm wide version is priced at 1,750 yen.
Location: Kyo-Baum, Kiyomizu branch
Address: 2-229 Kiyomizu Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 9:00 – 18:00 (depending on the season, there may be changes)
Holiday: No holidays
4. Red shiso leaf mochi by Sagayoshi
In the center of this confection lies a filling of smooth and light, homemade bean paste, which matches the taste of Kyotoites. A layer of coarsely ground Domyoji mochi surrounds the sweet bean, and offers a plump and chewy texture. Finally, a salt-pickled red shiso leaf wrapped around the mochi provides not only a beautiful violet-red coloring, but a wonderful aroma and salty flavor, as well. Named “Ume (plum)”, these treats can be purchased individually for 110 yen, or at 1,446 yen for a box of 12 pieces. These mochi are best eaten within 2 days of being made, but the cute, bite-sized sweets that perfectly balance sweet and salty, are sure to go fast!
Despite their simplicity, these traditional Japanese sweets exude a feeling of refinement. Locals love the confectioner Sagayoshi, and these mochi serve as their most representative product. Be sure to check out Sagayoshi’s ichigo-daifuku (strawberries tucked into mochi) in springtime and their kuri-ohagi (mochi covered in sweet bean and chestnuts) in the autumn.
Address: 35-15 Goshonouchi-cho, Saga Hirosawa, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 8:00 – 20:00 (closes 19:30 on Sundays)
5. Kyoto-style kuzu drink “Fountain of Youth” by Nijo Wakasaya
Nijo Wakasaya, a Kyoto-style confectionary with around a 100-year history, is popular for its cutely packaged kuzu (fine arrowroot powder) for making kuzu-yu, a traditional Japanese hot dessert drink that warms the body and helps prevent colds. This drink can also relieve sore throats, headaches, hangovers, and stuffy noses. Mix the sweetened kuzu starch with hot water to make a thick, honey-like drink. Due to kuzu-yu’s believed health benefits, Nijo Wakasaya named their product “Furousen,” meaning “Fountain of Youth.”
One box costs 200 yen, and each design features a different flavor. In the above image, the leftmost box with snow-covered pine branches contains the original, pure white kuzu starch, while the middle box decorated with flowers has a soft, sweet bean jam flavor, and the rightmost box depicting a rabbit holds matcha-flavored kuzu powder. “Fountain of Youth” keeps for a long time as it uses only healthy raw materials, and makes for a suitable gift.
Location: Nijo Wakasaya
Address: 333-2 Nishi Daikokumachi, Nijo-dori Ogawa-higashi agaru, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto
Hours: 8:00 – 18:00 (Sundays, national holidays close at 17:00)
Holiday: January 1-3
Translated and adapted by Jennifer Myers.