When we were in Kyoto, we were intrigued by the variety of traditional Japanese snacks available in just one shop alone which we’d visited. It is a 老舗 shinise, which means that it has been around for a very long time, and the selection was far more extensive than what we would probably find in all the snack shops we’d seen elsewhere combined. Senbei and other forms of rice biscuits in all thinkable Japanese-inspired flavours from the savory sansho and sakura-ebi to sweet ones like kurogoma and matcha. But this comes as no surprise of course. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan for more than 1000 years. Many of these snacks have their roots deep in the art of 和菓子 wagashi, the traditional artform of Japanese sweet-making. But some of these are classified as 南蛮菓子 nanban-gashi, brought into Japan by the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries more than 500 years ago. The most famous of these “imported confectioneries” must surely be the カステラケーキ kasutera cake which was derived from the Portuguese “Pão de Castela”. It has since become a speciality of Nagasaki. Another lesser known confection which is essentially a nanban-gashi as well, is a cookie known as そばぼうろ Soba Boro, These have since become a popular snack which is synonymously associated to Kyoto, where visitors would buy packets of them home as omiyage. But the recipe is fairly straightforward, so now you can make them on your own as well!
The first pound cake I’d tasted was a Sara Lee, and I’m pretty sure its the same for many of you. I remember having cravings for it when I was young, often picking up a loaf which was baked in tin foil from the frozen food section of a local supermarket and pestering my mum to put it into her shopping basket. This usually proved futile as the loaf mostly got sneaked back into the chiller compartment, but once in a very blue moon, my mum’s stance would soften and accede to our persistent pleads and protests and concede defeat. Then it is up for us to bicker on which flavour to bring back home. Our default choice is chocolate swirl, as we get the best of both worlds, i.e. rich buttery layers interlaced with ribbons of chocolate. A single loaf would usually last us over a couple of days, and sometimes a week if my sister and I have enough “determination” to prolong the “days of savouring pleasure”.
Over the years, we eat it less and less, probably weaned off the craving or perhaps because the spectrum of choices broaden over time. But Sara Lee pound cakes earned a special place in our hearts, being a “childhood delight” and often the central theme of several acts of child’s play, signing makeshift pacts and treaties to restrain each other from stealing bits of cake from the refrigerator without the knowledge of the other, drafted from torn out pages of school exercise books, to lil’ games like whose cake slices contained the most streaks of chocolate swirls. Totally silly and bewildering now in retrospect but its these little moments of pleasure that help fuel and formulate the most powerful memories which we cherish as time goes by.
We love depachikas! And we most certainly made no attempt to hide it! Depachikas is surely a shopping phenomenon which was uniquely Japan before the concept was widely emulated in departmental stores all over the world. I remember the first time we walked into the depachika in one of the major departmental stores linked to Shinjuku station on our first trip to Japan and the experience was simply “fwah!!!!” to say the least. From appetisers to desserts, from English salads to Japanese homemade pickled foodstuff, depachikas provide an exceedingly wide repertoire of delectable foods prepared for all thinkable occasions, from a light meal to elaborated box sets for hanami or hina matsuri celebrations, from simple bentos for the nearby working lunch crowds, to delicately crafted dinner courses worthy of kaiseki calibre! And do not think that since its a “food-to-go” takeaway concept, the quality would be compromised and shoddy. In fact its quite the contrary! A large number renowned restaurants and shops have set up delis and counters in depachikas, just to keep up with the pace of the dining crowd and maintain exposure. The competition is often stiff, keeping everyone on their toes to present their very best. One doesn’t have to look too far when he needs to plan a feast! In fact, a decent spread from any good depachika is just the perfect excuse for him to hold one!
Our third and last day in Kyoto and we didn’t want to pack the day’s itinerary with too much activities but alas, I think we “underdid” ourselves as we were pretty much done with Kinkakuji and Kitano Tenmangu by mid-day, initially thinking that we’d probably need a full day for these two spots in northern Kyoto 洛北. Not wanting to waste any precious time in this beautiful city, a quick decision was made to visit sourthen Kyoto where the infamous 伏見稻荷大社 Fushimi Inari Daisha lies. But going there was not without hiccups… (more…)
Day 5 in Japan is our 3rd day in Kyoto. Incidentally, its our last day here too. We love this city so much and lamented at the thought of not being able to stay here for another day. No wait, make that the rest of our lives! Its an ancient city yes but still so very much alive! The juxtaposition of the ancient and the new, the young and the old is all too dramatic and attractive for us. 3 days is really
barely NOT enough to see Kyoto and I often wonder how people do those “one day Kyoto stopovers” as they travel from Fukuoka to Tokyo via the JR line. I bet they leave the city with memories like… erm, Kyoto… what Kyoto?
After a hearty dinner at the unagi don joint, we walked down Kawaramachi Dori towards our next destination. We usually end the day with a dessert and today’s no exception. However, we could enjoy the desserts at the comfort of a sit-in dessert boutique instead of takeaways which we had over the last few days in Japan. Shop space is so limited in downtown Kyoto and Pâtisserie Kanae is no different. But we were glad we’d managed to make time in our itinerary for a trip down here.
After our little tour at Nishiki Market, we found ourselves at Daimaru Kyoto, located in between Kawaramachi and Karasuma stations. Won’t miss the chance for a little “tour” of the depachika as well. True enough, the basement is filled with little takeaway corners representing various big names which have found themselves in Kyoto. The one that struck us most was a small little booth by the famed Belgian patissier cum chocolatier, Jean-Philippe Darcis.
Apart visiting kiyomizu-dera 京都清水寺, we headed northwards passing through numerous small lanes which we so well-preserved of Kyoto’s glorious past. Some of the houses have been standing for hundreds of years. Even rebuilts were modelled after the old design. If not for the people, one would have been transported back to the Edo period…
After waking up to a cold and lazy morning, we took a bus from outside the hotel to Kyoto Station. Though the train station is nearby, we opted for buses instead as its cheaper. Moreoever, we get to sightsee along the way, and hopefully chance upon something which would be interesting. Today’s itinerary is to cover Higashiyama, which literally means the “eastern hills” of Kyoto. We had glimpses of the place yesterday since Gion is located there. Today’s walking trail would bring us from Kiyomizudera to Heian Jingu.
2nd day in Kyoto, we woke up to a pleasant surprise. it had been snowing the night before and the neighbourhood was enshrouded in a white veil. barely 6 am in the morning but the sky’s already quite lit but the air was chilly and dense. the neighbourhood was still in slumbers, quiet and peaceful saved for an occasional but infrequent bark. probably an Akita. clouds ominous and grey brood in the distant mountains foreboding a storm making its way down the hills. True enough, it began to snow again.
Pâtisserie Henri Charpentier (PHC) is easily the most “accessible” french bakery in Japan, with many takeaway outlets in depachikas of the major departmental stores like Isetan, Daimaru and Takashimaya, all over Japan. In fact, I don’t recall not seeing them at any of the departmental stores we went to! If one is forced to draw comparisons, PHC is like BreadTalk in Singapore, only that the former is much much much much much much…better, especially for a pastry junkie like me!
The original idea was to make a matcha chiffon with a newly acquired chiffon mold. While rampaging through my box of ingredients from our recent trip to Kansai, I suddenly remembered that I’d not made anything with the yuzu powder we’d brought back! So an immediate switch of plans to make a yuzu chiffon instead!
As we were on our way, leaving Gion to cross Kamogawa for Takashimaya Kyoto, we chanced upon our first french pastry shop in Kyoto, Pâtisserie Gion Sakai. Amidst the traditional Japanese architectural infrastructure of this part of the ancient city which beared two-storey shophouses with wooden framed doors, this establishment seemed like the most unexpecting and perhaps awkward juxtaposition. Nonetheless, we are glad that we have found it.
We took a bus from Arashiyama back to Central Kyoto and boy oh boy was it a long journey. The bus weaved through the numerous streets of Kyoto which we probably won’t have known or visited otherwise. We stopped around Gion-Shijo area and walked down to Hanamikoji 花見小路 for some geisha spotting!
After visiting Tenryuji and a walk through the Sagano Bamboo Groves, we found ourselves back onto the main street of Arashiyama where we were treated with a rare sight, even in Japan – a female rickshaw puller. We only saw another one a couple of days later in Nara. She was all smiles to everyone along the way but did not go about touting her services actively unlike the others around. Couldn’t resist a candid shot of her.
Prior to our trip, we did some info-scouting on tripadvisor and we had some wonderful advice from the good people there. One person I really want to pay tribute to is Kobekeith, an expert for the Kansai region on the website forum. His recommendations and suggestions were really superb and helped us a lot in planning our own itinerary.
After Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, we took a cab back down to Arashiyama station. The walk back downtown is quite a long one and we didn’t want to upset the schedule for the rest of the day. We saw a cab “straying” around the area when we were waiting at the bus stop and we flagged frantically to catch the driver’s attention. I’m pretty sure he was as glad to have chanced upon us as we’d found him!
Day 3 in Japan started early, checking out of the hotel in Osaka before daylight and making our way to Kyoto. The weather was biting cold and even started to snow! Alas everything went on rather smoothly. After checking in at Kyoto Kokusai Hotel opposite Nijo castle, we headed westwards for Arashiyama. Our first stop was somewhat off the beaten track. A rather quiet temple within the hills of Sagano, 愛宕念仏寺 Otaginenbutsu-ji.
Again, more of a photo log than a writing post. Enjoy!