"Yaki-mochi" is a simple word: "yaki" means grilled or baked and "mochi" a sticky rice cake. It is a Japanese sweet snack often found near shrines and temples; the fragrance of rice and the azuki paste wafts over the hot coal fires is simply irresistible. Yaki-mochi has thus sweetened the hearts and mouths of the visiting pilgrims and tourists for ages.
However, when was "simplicity" ever simply simple? An innocuously simple dish often is complex as the final form and flavor have been distilled by time and skill and circumstances. Therefore, even for a simple yaki-mochi, there are variations and differences - sometimes resulting from pursuit of taste, or other times driven by necessity (or greed). There are three well-known shops selling "yaki-mochi" in Kyoto, two by the Kamigamo Shrine - Jinbado and Aoiya* - and one by the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine - Tenjindo. (*Aoiya, sadly, has succumbed to the modern school of thought where preservation and additives - natural or artificial - are embraced. Until such a day when I find food tempered and tainted with preservatives and additives in fact tastes better than all-natural, shops selling them will not even be considered.)
Truly old-school, Jinbado opens its doors at 7 a.m. and is usually sold out by noon. Calling around 11:15 a.m. managed to reserve the very last yaki-mochi of the day. Yes, reservation is taken even if it is only one yaki-mochi. Clutching the paper bag contains the prized yaki-mochi, a Japanese saying came to mind, perhaps from the gods presiding over the Kamigamo Shrine, "luck can be found in the leftovers."
The small and supple mochi was endearingly soft, where fingers would leave dimples on its lightly tanned cheek. While a whiff of roasted rice tickled nostrils, the impatient teeth had already sunk into the lovely skin. The thicker sides were chewy, but not too chewy, so that the teeth will not be tangled up with the glutinous rice; as a contrast, the top and bottom were thinner with a subtle crust due to the grilling. The red bean was mashed to just the right texture to match the mochi so that neither would be left behind forlornly alone in the mouth. Furthermore, the sweetness and the size of Jinbado's yaki-mochi were so well calculated by age-old wisdome as to provide ample satisfaction, and yet entices the hand to reach for just one more.
Simple, yes; simple not quite.
Address: 4 Kamigamomisonoguchicho, Kitaku, Kyoto 603-8065, Kyoto Prefecture
Phone: +81 75-781-1377
Closed on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays.