The popular Kyoto Japanese sweets chain, 梅園Umezono, where one can find my favorite みたらし団子mitarashi dango in Kyoto, opened うめぞの茶房Umezono Sabo, a café where one can partake solely in かざり羹kazari-kan, a special 羊羹yokan made from 寒天kanten (agar, a gelatin made from algae) and わらびwarabi (brackenstarch) at the end of March last year. Using ingredients such as fruits, nuts, herbs and fresh cream, kazari-kan is definitely not your run-of-the-mill yokan, a Japanese sweet that I believe that one must try when visiting Japan. To tell the truth, I’ve never seen the appeal of yokan which I find to be incredibly dense with a strange texture, a combination of chewy and grainy, but upon researching Umezono Sabo after its opening, the kazari-kan sounded fascinating enough to cure me of my lack of interest in yokan.
On a hot day in mid-August (kind of redundant because every day of a Kyoto summer is hot😜) last year I decided that it was time to pay a visit to Umezono Sabo…fortunately, I found it without problem.
the outside of the machiya café
Ducking under the noren and sliding the door open, one finds himself in a small foyer area where the display of various and colorful kazari-kan catches one’s eye, helped by the décor being natural and simple. Here, one is greeted by one of the two staff members (whose attire is as natural and simple as the décor) on hand who takes one’s order either to have in the café space on the second floor or to take out. For those who decide to eat in, there is a small list of drinks from which one can choose to have with his choice of kazari-kan.
The seasonal kazari-kan was sold out😢, so I ordered the next best one and the seasonal drink which WAS available. I was told to go upstairs, with my shoes on (when I was confused about how to proceed)…below is a view of the steep and narrow stairs typical of a machiya from above.
I chose to sit at the end of the only big table, near the top of the stairs…below is the view of the other end of the café space with counter seating and a sliding door to the restroom.
the part of the café space near the window that looks out on the street out in front
The second floor was as tastefully natural and simple as the first floor, very refreshing if you ask me. Thanks to the big window and the skylight, there was enough light without taking away from the intimate atmosphere.
And in this charming environment is where I enjoyed the ブルーベリーblueberry kazari-kan, ￥350, and the seasonal drink, すもも緑茶ソーダsumomo ryokucha (plum & green tea) soda, ￥680.
The texture was yokan but the blueberry flavor with the fresh cream, rosemary sprig, walnut and cashew added a refreshing and Western-style twist to the traditional Japanese sweet. Tasting the infusion of sweet-and-sour plum syrup and bits of plum, slightly bitter green tea and fizzy soda that was my drink ensured me that I’d made a good decision in pairing it up with my fruit-based kazari-kan…maybe there’s no such thing as too much fruit😉. Needless to say, I was impressed and I believe that I will give yokan more of a chance from now on.☺
At first I was the only customer but right before my order arrived, I was joined by a middle-aged man-and-woman pair who sat at the two-seater within my view and a female hitori-sama who took a seat at the counter. The pair spoke quietly enough but since the hitori-sama and I weren’t talking, their conversation was audible…if I wasn’t in a jovial mood, I might have found the subject a bit pretentious (let’s just say that it was the exchanging of information on the best eating establishments in Kyoto)😜. Since I wanted to hit up フランジパニPrangipani close-by, I left after slowly relishing my goodies, planning to make a repeat visit as soon as possible.