Sweets are the souvenir, or omiyage in Japanese, of choice from Japan and especially from Kyoto. According to prefectural research over 30% of foreign tourist to Kyoto purchase Japanese sweets or snacks as a souvenir to bring back home. Amongst the countless of choices available Kyoto’s traditional sweet, yatsuhashi, stands above all as a favourite for both foreigners and Japanese alike. Yatsuhashi is made from mixing rice flour, sugar and at times other ingredients such as cinnamon into a dough to steam and flatten into sheets. Between the sheets all kinds of flavoured pastes are added including of course the traditional azuki beans but also chocolate or fruit-flavours.
With so many flavours and several brands available, the question “”Which is the best?” is one that easily comes to mind. Although its hardly possible to taste all the yatsuhashi in Kyoto, we choose to make a selection which includes the most widely available as well as the more boutique sweets.
Yuuko Nikki (Cinnamon)
First up is one of the most widely available brands found throughout the city from Kyoto Station to Kiyomizudera and Arashiyama, Idutsu Yatsuhashi Honpo’s Yuuko Nikki. A plastic package containing five average size yatsuhashi costs about 260 yen , but larger boxed packages are also available varying in size and price. The sweets preserve for two weeks which is the longest out of our selection. There are multiple tastes available, so we choose to go for a traditional cinnamon flavoured Yuuko Nikki yatsuhashi. The sheets are quite tough due to preservants added to it while the cinnamon flavour is also very strong. The azuki bean filling is also quite tiny and at times you will feel hard bean shells within the paste. If you are not going to be able to gift your yatsuhashi within a week Yuuko Nikki is your safest, be it not the most tasty, option.
As an equal competitor to the previous yatsuhashi, Nikki by Honke Nishio Yatsubashi is also available for 260 yen a same sized package with larger boxed packages also available. In contrast to Yuuko Nikki, Honke Nishio’s sweets only preserve one week which translates into far softer sheets and smoother textures. Furthermore, it must be said Honke Nishio yatsuhashi’s azuki bean filling is larger, more smooth and tastes more natural while having a mild pleasant cinnamon smell. When it comes to the budget-options, it is fair to state Honke Nishio’s is the better choice.
Otabe’s Kotabe Nikki yatsuhashi is slightly more expensive than the previous budget option costing about 370 for five sweets, but they are half the size of an average yatsuhashi making it more ideal for a single person rather than a sweet to share. The package is very nice with many different colourful designs with the sweets preserving for a week. Although the yatsuhashi is tiny, it is full of filling and the sheets are quite soft. Kotabe Nikki yatsuhashi ‘s smaller package is quite convenient if you want to take quite a few of them back home in a nicer package than just plastic.
Ganso Yatsuhashi Nishio Shoten
Last, in our opinion the best yatsuhashi, comes from a small store near Kiyomizudera with a long-standing tradition of preparing Japanese sweets and has even been awarded for their products by multiple international institutions. Ganso Yatsuhashi Nishio Shoten’s yatsuhashi are delicately hand-made with perfectly thin and soft sheets covering smooth and delicious filling without the use of preservants or pigments. A small package of 10 yatsuhashi only costs around 560 yen, making it not only stunningly delicious but also highly affordable as an omiyage.
SUPRISE CONTENDER: Nikiniki
The most boutique option comes from Nikiniki with stores near Kawaramachi station as well as inside Kyoto station. The package includes two flavours of 10 yatsuhashi sheets and two pastes, both of which you can choose the flavours yourself at the store for 1.180 yen. What makes this package so unique is the fact that you can make the yatsuhashi yourself in whichever shape you like using a small cup or other utensils. The smooth and soft flavoured sheets are very colourful while also being naturally sweet and aromatic. For our package we choose a maroon and ram raisin filling which are perfectly sweet and very natural. The meticulous effort that Nikiniki puts into making these yatsuhashi truly comes back in its amazing taste. Nikiniki’s yatsuhashi beautiful and unusual presentation in combination with its deliciousness make it a great and unique omiyage.