Kyoto Snaps #2: Gion Koishi

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When we ventured into Gion, one thing that motivated us was seeing the streets of this pleasure district, grabbing a few bits of traditional Japanese crafts and also seeing a geisha show if possible. One other motivation, made more intense by the summer heat, was to eat wagashi and Japanese ice. Out of three places I’d noted down to visit in Gion (for these culinary delights), one was shut, the other a little too out of the way and so 祇園小石 Gion Koishi it was! And what a precious little shop this was.

This time of the year, you start seeing shops hanging out ‘氷’ signs which basically say ‘ice’ and more often than not they will have a variety of shaved ices (kakigori) or ice creams and parfaits. Gion Koishi I hear is famous for their black sugar syrup (kokutomitsu 黒糖蜜) made from kurosato sugar which is very similar to dark molasses but we weren’t so much intrigued by black sugar at all. Instead, we wanted anything and everything green and matcha-related!

Here’s what we tried and it seemed everybody else around us (school-kids and adults alike) were all ordering and eating the same thing, most of them in complete silence. It was like stepping into the dark recesses of a sacred cave and joining fellow pilgrims in the humble and elaborate process of licking their wooden spoons off of matcha ice cream, shiratama and kanten jellys. What an atmosphere! When eating something rather sinful, I sometimes do it alone in the dark in the privacy of my bedroom and scoff it down like a real animal. Here, in Gion Koishi, feel free to do the same and wash it down with cups of hot hojicha. You don’t have to feel embarrassed. Because everyone is sorta doing the same, with the occasional hum of satisfaction.

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This was the best matcha parfait I’ve ever eaten in my life! I’ve never been this happy with ice cream before. Generous scoops of vanilla and matcha ice cream, shiratama mochi in both plain and green tea flavours, kanten jelly, a Mont Blanc-like mountain of kuri (chestnut) paste, adzuki bean paste and slabs of fluffy matcha chiffon cake. Oh, and whipped cream. Yea, a real list of ingredients and a real tall glass of it all. Mine. Consumed. The experience? Totally beyond words, indescribable.

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Next up, what Gion Koishi is notorious for! Their Wagamama (literally meaning selfish) kakigori is just a bowl of surprises this one. It may look more like a luscious green mountain with an egg yolk on the top than a luxurious dessert but this was one real refresher. The shaved ice is heavily doused with a bittersweet matcha syrup, topped with a candied chestnut (love these things!), sweetened adzuki beans and underneath this promising heap of ice lies a bed of kanten jelly, light and sweet. Who needs mints to wake you up when you can have a whole bowl of kakigori to yourself.

Now I merely wish teleportation was possible. I’d throw myself into the fireplace and teleport every evening for the best dessert Kyoto can offer.

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Gion Koishi is on the north side of Shijo St (四条通り) about 1 min walk from the gate of Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社). If you are walking towards Yasaka Shrine, it’ll be on the left side of the street.

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