The Softest Mochi in Kyoto: Chikaramochi Shokudo Katoshoten
Just 4-6 minutes from Hotel the Celestine Kyoto Gion, Ninenzaka, Sannenzaka, and the ever-popular Yasaka Pagoda is a 24-seater udon, donburi, and mochi shop called Chikaramochi Shokudo Katoshoten. It's what most Japanese people would call a "Showappoi" (Showa-like) retro joint, but they would be wrong because this place has been around since the Meiji era.
Chikara Mochi is a trademarked brand. At the height of its popularity in 1950, there were over 50 Chikara Mochi franchises in Kyoto City alone. Fewer than 20 remain in the Kansai region today partly because most owners have turned too old to work, and partly because mochi is no longer as popular today as it was 90 years ago. To supplement their income, Chikaramochi Shokudo Katoshoten started serving lunch on top of selling mochi in the 1920s.
The lunchtime crowd is a mix of elderly locals on the weekdays and Japanese tourists from outside Kyoto on the weekends and public holidays.
Foreigners seem to be frightened off by the lack of a English signboard, but you will receive an English menu once you're seated, so don't worry about having to decipher anything. There are also plastic models of the food in the window, so just point at them if necessary.
The black signboards inside the shop are nearly a century old and have items that have been sold out for decades. Like the Kameyama (亀山), a thick red bean soup popular in the late Meiji era. These days most people prefer zenzai (a lighter red bean soup) so that's what they serve as dessert. The zenzai features two slices of their super-soft mochi (glutinous rice cake).
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The lunchtime favourites here are the curry chicken donburi (¥820) and the oyakudon (chicken-and-egg on rice, or literally "mother-and-child on rice", ¥780). Several places in Kyoto claim to serve the best oyakudon. Chikaramochi Shokudo Katoshoten doesn't make any claims about theirs, but their oyakudon is right up there with the best.
Make time if you decide to visit at lunchtime because the third-generation owner, Mr Kato Hironobu, usually only has one kitchen hand helping him out. It won't feel like such a long wait if you watch Mrs Kato bussing about the tables and calling out "ookini" ("thank you" in Kyoto dialect) when customers leave. Her motherly manners will also make you feel right at home.
But let's not forget - you're here for the mochi. It would be a sin to leave this place without them. Pack some and enjoy them at teatime.
Mr and Mrs Kato make their mochi by hand every morning, so these are probably the softest mochi you'll ever taste. And don't visit too late in the afternoon. They make their mochi in small batches so they can sell out of everything by 2pm on a busy weekend.
The mochi menu changes throughout the year. Daifuku-mochi, for example, is only on sale when the weather is cool because the surface of the rice cakes crack when it's too hot.
Chikaramochi Shokudo Katoshoten 力餅食堂 加藤商店
~¥1,000 per person. Cash only.
Open 11am - 7pm daily except Sundays.
Telephone: 075-561-5434 (Japanese only. The Katos do not take reservations).
120 Kiyomizu 5-chome, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto 605-0862
〒605-0862 京都府京都市東山区清水5丁目 京都市東山区清水5丁目120