One of Japan’s oldest and most beloved treats, mochi has been a favorite in Japan for well over 1,000 years. Once a food strictly for royalty, mochi is now considered a worldwide favorite. There is such a variety of mochi throughout Japan that it’s hard to keep track; it can be served in savory soups, melty like cheese, but one of the most popular ways to eat it is in Japanese desserts. No trip to Japan would be complete without a soft mochi dessert, and the Nara area boasts some of the best traditional mochi in all of Japan. Culture Trip has compiled some of the top Nara mochi places for travelers to enjoy.
No Nara mochi list could be complete without a mention of Nakatanidou. This is the best known mochi store in Nara, and maybe Japan. People crowd around the shopfront to watch two men pound the glutinous rice into a smooth ball of mochi, a process called mochitsuki. It’s a bit terrifying to watch two grown men slam hammers into the mochi, one after the other in a mesmerizing, perfect rhythm, but that’s why this place earned its fame for having the fastest mochi pounders in Japan. Do not leave without getting one of their yomogi mochi filled with sweet bean paste and covered in soybean powder. The yomogi, or mugwort, gives the mochi a bright green color and a clean refreshing taste.
Senjyuan has been serving treats to Nara customers for over 70 years. Their warabi mochi is one of the most popular souvenirs for domestic travelers in Nara. Made with a sweet potato starch and bracken root, this clear jelly mochi is delicious any time of year, but it is especially refreshing in the summer. Besides warabi mochi, they also sell a variety of daifuku, a mochi cake stuffed with different fillings. They have a kinako cream version made with soybean powder and sweet cream, along with seasonal varieties such as grape.
Nakanishi wagashi | Courtesy of Nakanishi Yosaburo
While in Nara, don’t forget to check out Naramachi’s Nakanishi Yosaburo for some truly beautiful snacks. Nakanishi has been in Nara since 1913 and is currently run by a fourth generation sweets maker. Determined to preserve Nara’s traditional flavors, many of the ingredients come from Nara prefecture shops like Yamato tea. They sell beautiful wagashi, Japanese sweets typically made from mochi and filled with sweet bean paste, as well as hot grilled mochi. The darling café serves beautiful lunch sets along with desserts like shaved ice. For the more hands-on types, Nakanishi also offers classes on how to make wagashi at home.
Kashiya is one of the best-known traditional cafés in Nara. Located in an Edo-style house, each wagashi is made as it is ordered. Watch the wagashi being crafted as you sip on some local Nara tea. They have 100% rice starch warabi mochi as well as a few seasonal varieties like Kashiwa mochi. Kashiwa mochi is traditionally eaten on Children’s Day and is a plain bean paste-filled mochi wrapped in an oak leaf. The oak leaf imparts an earthy flavor to the traditional mochi taste. Their version uses a sakura leaf to wrap the fresh mochi.
Ochanoko is a trendy little café close to Kintestu-Nara station. People travel from other prefectures for a chance to eat Ochanoko’s mochi, as well as their shaved ice. They have two kinds of mochi: warabi mochi and kurumi mochi. Kurumi mochi is a walnut-stuffed mochi cake. Both of these come as sets served with Japanese tea for the affordable price of 500 yen (US$4.50) or less. Those feeling decadent should try the green tea shaved ice loaded with chewy mochi balls to get the best of two of Japan’s most iconic desserts.