October 3, 2012
by Minako Ueda and Ryoko Umekawa
How can we encounter the varieties of Japanese food culture in Kyoto?
Perhaps two of the best-known foods associated with Japanese cooking are rice and macha (powdered green tea). Both of these foods, however, are not usually served alone. Tsukemono (pickles), furikake (a seasoning mix sprinkled on top of rice), or tsukudani (vegetables, mushrooms, meat or seafood that has been simmered in a thick, dark soy sauce) are all condiments that go well with rice. And they all tend to have a very salty taste.
Macha or green tea, because of its bitter taste, is almost always served with wagashi (a Japanese confectionary). There are many shops in Kyoto that specialize in wagashi and others that specialize in rice condiments. Eirakuya, however, is a unique Kyoto food shop that sells both traditional salty rice condiments and confections for tea. It is rare to find a shop that sells both sweet and salty products under one roof. Yet these foods are essential for Japanese cuisine. Eirakuya makes and sells a wide variety of both condiments and sweets that use only local ingredients.
The beautiful sweets created at Eirakuya include traditional Yokan and Mizuyokan (a gelatin dessert), Manju (steamed buns filled with sweet azuki bean paste) and Yuzu Jelly, which is made from domestically produced citrons. After you take a bite of this jelly, the distinct fragrance of yuzu will spread in your mouth. The price of Yuzu Jelly starts at ¥315. Yokan and Yuzu Jelly are served cold and so are especially popular in summer.
However, the most popular confection at Eirakuya is Kohaku, which means “amber” in English. It consists of a block of clear, transparent jelly with different ingredients suspended inside it. So there are several varieties: “bean,” “bitter orange,” “chestnut” and “yuzu citron.” Each variety is made according to one of the four seasons. The price of Kohaku starts at ¥819.
Eirakuya has a wide variety of mixed seasonings, pickles and tsukudani. Souvenir boxes include from two to six different condiments. One type of condiment is Chirimen-sansho, small baby fish like sardines that have been boiled and dried and mixed with pepper. Cost is ¥1050. This is excellent on rice. Another condiment on sale at Eirakuya is Kyoto Obumiso, which is a paste made from miso. It is often served on pickled cucumbers. Cost is ¥735.
The most famous condiment at Eirakuya, however, is Hitokuchi Shiitake (bite-size shiitake buttons). These, small shiitake mushroom buttons, boiled in a thick and sweet soy sauce, are a perfect accompaniment to rice. 100 grams cost ¥788.
The café space on the second floor of Eirakuya gives customers a chance to leisurely sample some of its tastiest products. Although the menu is limited, visitors can try Dekitate Warabi-mochi. Warabi-mochi is a popular gelatinous sweet that is dusted with soybean flour. Its color is usually light brown or greenish, however the Dekitate Warabi-mochi served at Eirakuya’s café is black! This rare type of warabi-mochi, served with green tea, costs ¥1200.
Next on the menu are Japanese-style parfaits, including Green Tea Parfait and Yuzu Parfait. Price for a parfait is ¥980. On the summer menu is “Uji-no-Kintoki (shaved ice with azuki beans and milk). Price is ¥980. All of these items are an especially good way to cool off during the hot months of summer.
Eirakuya is located on Kawaramachi Street just north of Shijo Street, about a five-minute walk from Kawaramachi Station of the Hankyu Train Line.
Shop hours are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.