Gion Kinana’s fresh-made kinako ice cream, more cream than ice, is the best Japanese ice cream that I have had. Their parfaits are completely amazing too. Kinana is located in Gion, just off of Hanamikoji Street, one of Kyoto’s most scenic and historic neighborhoods. I liked Kinana so much I went back for ice cream and parfaits like 10 times before I wrote this article! This one is at the top of on my Do Not Miss list.
Kinana ‘Dekitate’ Ice Cream and Kodawari
Kinana makes six flavors of ice cream; kinako (roast soybean flour), azuki (sweet red bean), kurogoma (black sesame), kuromitsu (black sugar syrup), maccha (powdered green tea) and yomogi (mugwort), all real traditional Japanese flavors! To get the real Kinana ice cream experience, I really recommend the just made ‘dekitate’ ice cream as it is heavenly, impossibly soft and creamy. Once ice cream is frozen it loses this fantastic texture. I think that the kinako flavor is the only fresh, ‘dekitate’ ice cream that is served. If you just ask the friendly staff what the ‘dekitate’ flavor is, they should have no trouble understanding. (Many customers eat the dekitate ice cream while standing at the counter on the first floor. Try this if the sit down area on the second floor is full.)
Kodawari is an essential concept in Japanese culture, especially in culinary culture and all kinds of product development. Kodarari means picky or particular. Owner, ice cream chef Omoto-san is very picky about what goes into his ice cream. He uses no additives, fillers or artificial ingredients. His kinako powder is a original blend of roasted ‘kuromame’ black beans from the Tamba region of Hyogo and Kyoto and ‘daizu’ soybeans from Hamanaka-cho in Hokkaido. He traveled to both regions to inspect producers before selecting the best.
Any business in Japan that isn’t into kodawari really isn’t worth patronizing. If you like Kyoto culinary culture, it is probably due to kodawari.
Kinana has three parfaits that are available throughout the year. There is Kinana Hapon (warabi mochi), Berry Berry Kinana (yogurt and frozen berries) and Kinana Italian (tiramisu). Then there is a seasonal parfait that changes every few months. All use several flavors of Kinana ice cream and Western-style baked confections like cookies and biscotti, all baked in-house at Yakitsukasa Kinana, Kinana’s second location. The fresh-made ice cream is not used in the parfaits because it is too soft for layering other ingredients upon. I tried both the Berry Berry Kinana and Kinana Italian and thought that they were fine but not exceptional. Two foodie and chef friends agreed with me on this. I can see how these parfaits would appeal to Japanese women that visit Kinana fairly often or want to try something non-Japanese.
The autumn seasonal parfait was quite another story. Now, Japanese are really into parfaits and I have had a lot of great Japanese-style parfaits in Kyoto but this one was the most memorable and original. It was over-the-top amazing!
Chestnut Autumn Parfait
The seasonal Kinana Chestnut Parfait features two kinds of ice cream, mochi, anko (azuki paste), soba boro (buckwheat cookie), two chocolate cookies (actually more like little cakes), a chocolate and kuromame biscotti with lots of chestnut mousse all topped with a candied chestnut.
The chestnut mousse topping was amazing, thick and rich, just overloaded with chestnut flavor. The nuance of the biscotti really got me, like all the other baked items it is made at Yakitsukasa Kinana. It is dry and crunchy like traditional biscotti, it has some chunks of rich chocolate but the kuromame black beans, though baked and encased in crunchy biscotti they are still soft and chewy! There is some kodawari at work here. This contrast in texture and attention to detail really impresses me. The chocolate cookies are really moist and dense, about a mouthful each. The soba boro are cracker-thin and very crunchy. I have never had sobo boko like that.
Kinana only makes 20 of the autumn parfaits everyday and usually runs out of the key ingredient, chestnut mousse by 2 pm, earlier on weekends. This parfait will only be available in October and November. I am looking forward to the winter seasonal parfait, and the autumns to come!
About Kyo Kinana (京きなな)
For many years owner chef Katsuji Omoto had a French restaurant near Kitano Shrine, which is a somewhat outlying area of Kyoto. In 2002 he decided to move into the center of town and to close his restaurant and open something like a cafe with baked sweets. He rented a space in Gion but after he signed the lease and moved in he was told by the owner that he couldn’t use heat or flame in the space. He was quite shocked and felt deceived. Nevertheless, he took the high road and persevered. He cooly thought about what he could make without cooking and decided that it would have to be ice cream. At his French restaurant he had made his own baked desserts and ice cream, so this wasn’t entirely new territory for him.
His initial location was not ideal and it was tough going, however his ice cream was soon noticed by the media and he was featured on a television program and from there Kinana started to get very busy and develop as a new Kyoto brand.
In 2004 Omoto-san moved to his current location which has become a Gion fixture and is a very popular destination in the neighborhood for visitors to Kyoto. It is even popular with the neighborhood maiko and geiko (geisha), you can see their traditional fans displayed on the wall.
Based on Omoto-san’s original intention to do baked sweets in Gion, in 2006 he opened Yakitsukasa Kinana. (I haven’t been here yet but the baked goods served at Kinana are made here. And, they are great!) Yakitsukasa Kinana is located near Kiyomizu Temple in the scenic Higashiyama district.
Kinana is a very popular and seating is only available on the second floor. If you can’t get seated upstairs or you just want ice cream, you can have that at the standing at the ice cream counter on the first floor. Don’t go away without some dekitate kinako ice cream even if you cannot get seated!
For take out Kinana offers milk jams, cookies, biscotti, candies and a few other yummies. I haven’t tried any of them but they look very interesting. I think the milk jams would make very novel ‘omiyage’ souvenirs for visitors to Kyoto.
Gion Kobu Neighborhood (祇園甲部)
Kinana is located in one of Kyoto’s most scenic and historic neighborhoods: Gion Kobu.
brand name: Kyo Kinana (京きなな)
Gion main store: Gion Kinana (祇園きなな)
Kiyomizu store: Yakitsukasa Kinana (焼司 喜七)
Gion Kinana in English (Main Store)
English Menu: no
English Website: none (Japanese language site: www.kyo-kinana.com)
Hours: 11am – 7pm (6:30 pm last order)
Address: Kyoto-shi, Higashiyama-ku, Gion-machi Minami-gawa 570-119 (京都市東山区祇園町南側570-119)
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