July 2, 2012
by Maaya Tanigawa and Yuka Nishii
Shichimi is a unique spice loved by Japanese people. Usually, shichimi is used on udon and soba (Japanese noodles) or gyudon (a rice bowl topped with stewed beef). Recently shichimi has become steadily more well known around the world, especially in Europe and North America.
Why it is called ‘shichimi’? Well, ‘shichi’ means seven in Japanese and ‘mi’ means taste. Since it is made with seven ingredients, it is called shichimi, or ‘seven tastes’. Traditionally, shichimi is made with black sesame, hemp seed, Japanese pepper (also called sansho), yuzu citrus peel, poppy seeds, seaweed, and shiso (an aromatic Japanese herb). All these ingredients are mixed together to form a course powder. Generally, the color of shichimi is red and spicy-looking. This is because the base ingredient of shichimi is red pepper.
More About Shichimi Ingredients
Shiso is a wild, leafy plant that is native to Japan and other parts of Asia. Its scent stimulates the appetite and its leaves also have nutritive values, as they contain minerals and vitamins. Shiso is also used as a medicine; lately, it has attracted attention for its effectiveness against allergies like hay fever. Shiso is often used as garnish. It is most commonly used in sashimi dishes. It has a distinct flavor, not unlike that of mint.
Like shiso, sansho is also a plant native to Japan. It looks like a small shrub whose leaves are aromatic. The fruits of the plant are crushed to become sansho powder, which is typical Japanese spice, commonly used on yakitori (grilled chicken) kabayaki unagi (broiled eel), and of course in shichimi. Also, young leaves of the sansho are called “leaf buds” which have a unique scent and sharp taste. These leaf buds are used as a topping for chilled tofu (bean curd) or as a sashimi garnish.
The citrus peel used in shichimi comes from a Japanese fruit called yuzu. Yuzu belongs to the mandarin orange family, which originally came from China although now it is grown all over Japan. Yuzu is strongly acidic, so it isn’t suitalbe for many dishes, but because of its unique flavor, its rind is used as a garnish and its juice is used as a seasoning, much in the same way lemon is used in the West. Some examples of how Yuzu is used are as a marmalade, as an ingredient to make rice crackers , and it is sometimes mixed with miso (fermented soy bean paste).
There is a special shichimi shop, called Shichimiya Honpo, located on the way to Kiyomizu temple. It is quite famous because the shop has a really long history. Founded in 1655, Shichimiya Honpo is still continuing to do business. As you can see, this shop has been loved by many people for more than 350 years.
Originally the shop was called Kawachiya. It was a place used to welcome priests who came back from ritual devotions under a waterfall. Kawachiya gave them red pepper hot tea to warm the priests up. It is said that this was the beginning of the shichimi shop. In this way, shichimi is a unique spice that Kyoto people invented. In addition, Shichimiya Hompo is often included in the list of the three most famous shichimi shops in Japan, the other two being Yagenbori in Tokyo and Yahataya in Nagano prefecture.
Unique Aspects of Shichimiya Honpo
In general, shichimi is red and spicy because the base ingredient is red pepper. However, the shichimi made at Shichimiya Honpo is not as spicy as it looks. Instead of a lot of sansho is used. If shichimi were too spicy, then it would not be suitable for use with traditional Kyoto-style food. Therefore, the shop has to be careful not to make its shichimi too spicy, which would make these traditional Kyoto dishes taste awful. In addition to the generous use of sansho, Shichimi Honpo also uses white sesame along with the other traditional ingredients. Also unique is that the red pepper and sansho used in this shichimi is grown exclusively in fields owned by Shichimi Honpo. That makes them unlike the red pepper and sansho of other shichimi in Japan.
As previously mentioned, Japanese people usually use shichimi on udon, soba, or gyudon. However, the shop owner claims that curry with shichimi is also a good combination. The store also has created some newer, non-traditional products like nerishichimi, which is kneaded shichimi. It goes well with pasta dishes, for example. Another non-traditional product is shichimi chips, which can only be found in four places in Japan, so it’s quite a rare snack. In Shichimiya Hompo, you can try some free samples.
How To Get There
From Kyoto Station
City bus: Take No.206 or 100 and get off at Gojyozaka stop and walk about 7 minutes.
Kyoto bus: Take No.18 and get off at Higashigojyo stop and walk about 7 minutes.
From Kawaramachi station
City bus: Take No.207 and get off at Kiyomizumichi and walk about 7 minutes.
Hours of Operation
From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (In winter, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)