Kyoto : Toraya | とらや

20th December 2014.
Kyoto, Japan.
Kyoto, with its long history is home to many institutions. Some of which, are at least a few centuries old in the former imperial capital. One of them is Toraya (とらや), which was founded in the 16th century in Kyoto. It is the purveyor of traditional Japanese sweets also known as wagashi  (和菓子) to the imperial court during the reign of Emperor Goyozei and today, its headquarters has been shifted to Tokyo after the Meiji Restoration when the capital moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Nonetheless, Toraya has its roots in Kyoto, with history of at least 450 years.

The historic confectionery has beautiful tearoom located along Ichijo-dori near the Imperial Palace Park known as Toraya Karyō (虎屋菓寮), designed by Hiroshi Naito and has a beautiful garden within its courtyard along with an elegant interiors with a contemporary take of traditional Japanese architectural aesthetics.

Toraya have a series of seasonal wagashi as well as signature sweets, the most elaborate being the Namagashi (生菓子) which changes twice each month. During my visit, I had the Kinō no Tsudzuki (昨日の続き), a seasonal gyodai namagashi (御題生菓子) inspired by the Utakai Hajime (歌会始), an annual literary gathering in which participants read traditional Japanese poetry. Made with bean paste, the namagashi has an ornate decoration of branches and a red bookmark. Both elements represents a kind of reading journey through the woods. In a way, I think it celebrates the joy of reading and that continuation of what was left behind yesterday like a walk along path with branches, and leaving your mark as you walk over the branches.

The best way to enjoy these Japanese sweets is to pair it with a strong, heavy and frothy cup of matcha which serves to balance the rich, sweetness of the wagashi while both work in hand to complement the different subtle flavours within each other such as a mild nuttiness within the Kinō no Tsudzuki or the fragrance of the green tea within the bitter matcha mixture.

Toraya Karyō offers a beautiful, serene refuge from the busy world outside to contemplate, to slow down and admire the work of art within the tea, the wagashi, the gardens and the space.


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