こたろうKotarou is one of the shops for sweets on the list that Iori-san put together of establishments in Kyoto that I must try sometime last month…the name sounded familiar, so I looked it up to find that it was the たい焼きtaiyaki place that I was interested in visiting on 仁王門通Niomon Street (not too far away from ピニョ食堂Pinyo Shokudo). Yesterday, I suddenly got the afternoon off, so I decided to send Iori-san a message in case he was free to do café rounds with me…although he had just gotten back from Tokyo and had laid down (unintentionally) to a nap, he said he’d be up for meeting. When I asked for what he was in the mood, he suggested several places including Kotarou…quite the houkou-onchi, I thought that Kotarou was in the north part of Kyoto and wrote it off for the day but when Iori-san reminded me that it was actually on Niomon Street within walking distance from mement mori where we ended up going, I realized how gravely mistaken I had been and enthusiastically agreed to dropping by Kotarou on our way back. Iori-san dialed Kotarou-san’s number to see if they would still be open by the time we would arrive (sometimes the shop closes early) and suddenly started laughing; later he explained that it was because he was met with “We’re still open and can serve you taiyaki, so get your butt over here.” before he could even say who he was…of course his number registered in “Kotarou-san’s” phone gave him away.☺
When we arrived, the small shop was bustling with people…in the back were two parties of two in the tatami space (take your shoes off before going up) which is all the people who could fit there and there were two male regulars standing at the counter as well as a customer waiting outside for his order while getting in some smokes joined by an older woman later. I had to laugh because this is how I would painting the epitome of a Japanese-style retro hangout for the locals.
When we entered the shop, Iori-san was introduced by “Kotarou-san” (that’s what we’ll call the owner although apparently he has another name), an older man with a soft and gentle voice but quick wit, to the customers as a local celebrity because he sure stood out in military wear and a top hat that day, one of his outfits…one of the customers, a guy who owns machiyas to rent out to visitors to Kyoto, was so fascinated with Iori-san that he even took Iori-san’s picture and gave him his name card so that they could keep in touch. One of the regulars asked Iori-san, “Are you dressed in a costume?” and he replied, “This is what I normally wear.” I guess Iori-san is a little hard to grasp for most Japanese people, especially in conservative Kyoto.☺
Iori-san told Kotarou-san that I’d be taking lots of pictures about which Kotarou-san didn’t mind at all. Kotarou-san makes taiyakis the Japanese old-fashioned way, one by one with (heavy! I know, he let me hold one) iron molds of sea bream over fire, which means that each creation might turn out different but still absolutely delicious as I was to find out later.
clockwise from top left: Kotarou-san warms up the iron molds; he greases down the molds; he pours batter on one side of the mold, adds bean paste and adds more batter over that; and he closes the mold and wait for the taiyaki to bake.
Kotarou-san at work opening the molds every so often to see if the taiyakis are ready
Iori-san ordered “黒kuro (black)”, bottom, and 白”shiro (white)” taiyakis, ￥200 each…kuro was the あずきつぶazuki-tsubu (coursely-strained red-bean paste) one while shiro was the 白(インゲン)つぶshiro(ingen)-tsuba (coursely-strained navy beans).
I was told that Kotarou is the only place in Japan that serves ayuyaki, bean paste-filled sweetfish versions of taiyaki
あゆ焼 三色セットayuyaki san-shoku setto (three-color ayuyaki set), ￥500…each ayuyaki contains the different colored bean paste available at Kotarou.
the colors of bean paste available at Kotarou, clockwise from top: shiro, うぐいす色uguisu-iro (light green) made from うぐいす豆uguisu-mame (sweetened green peas) and kuro
According to Iori-san the aero press coffee at Kotarou is very good, so it didn’t take much to convince me to get a cup, too.
What a simple press, it was honestly the first time I saw such a press…reminded me of a simple version of my grandmother’s juicer when I was growing up.
With a crispy crust and chewy yet soft inside mixed with the bean paste, the taiyakis and ayuyakis were a nice treat, especially when had with coffee.
Toward the end of our stay, we were the only customers which gave us a chance to chat more in depth with Koutaro-san. After getting a better look inside, I noticed there were some American-style accents (that could be found in a casual bar) to the mainly Japanese-style interior. Maybe it was the jumpsuit or mechanic-like outfit that Kotarou-san was wearing but he reminded me a little of 所ジョージTokoro George, a Japanese comedian who is known for being witty and cool and into American-style paraphernalia..he told us that he wants to live in Hawaii or somewhere he can survive in just a pair of shorts and sell his Japanese-style baked goods but has no money to do that yet. Meanwhile in the case that he does fulfill his dream, he wants to leave craftsmen who can take on his craft of taiyaki/ayuyaki baking…apparently all his apprentices are girls (they must have toned arms from handling the iron!).☺
Before we left, he said he was happy that Iori-san had brought such a nice friend and asked me to drop by again…I definitely will!☺
Update: Kotarou is no longer on Niomon Street but the owner is currently looking for another location in Kyoto, so until then, please try Kotarou’s taiyakis and ayuyakis at the Nara location.☺
Address: 京都府京都市左京区仁王門通新堺町東入ル和国町Kyoto-fu. Kyoto-shi. Sakyo-ku. Niomon-dori. Shinsakaimachi. Higashi-hairu. Wakoku-cho 370
Telephone number: 090-3238-0297
Access: 地下鉄東西線三条京阪駅より北へ徒歩7分minutes by foot from Subway Tozai Line Sanjo Keihan Station or 京阪三条駅Keihan Sanjo Station
Business hours: 6:00am-9:00pm