Wagashi: Kyoto Sanjo Wakasaya Gion Chigo Mochi (三条若狭屋 祇園ちご餅)
Gion Chigo Mochi covered in sparkly ice-like flakes, filled with sweet and salty miso has been a Kyoto favorite for about 100 years!
This is a very popular and historic wagashi mochi treat in Kyoto. It is simple; gyuhi mochi dusted in sparkles on a stick filled with a sweet and salty white miso.
Gion Chigo Mochi with ‘Sparkles’
Gion Chigo Mochi is made not in Gion but at a quaint shop called Sanjo Wakasaya at the Sanjo-Horikawa Street intersection, in the entrance to one of Kyoto’s largest ‘shotengai’ shopping arcades. Gion Chigo Mochi is the Sanjo Wakasaya’s famous product.
Actually, this mochi is for the Gion Festival but it is available all year.
The sparkles that cover this mochi are made from kori mochi (氷餅), literally ice, or frozen mochi. Kori mochi is from northern Japan. To make it, blocks of mochi are wrapped in paper and hung under the eaves of houses in the winter to freeze dry.
In times past people ate kori mochi but now it is more often used to decorate wagashi. Kori mochi when crushed into flakes looks similar to ice crystals or freshly fallen snow.
The Gion Festival is held at the height of the summer heat and Japanese love this kind of icy look to provide some psychic relief from summer.
Gion Chigo Mochi is only slightly sweet and contains salt, this is a taste that traditionally Japanese found appropriate to combat summer.
Gion Chigo Mochi Bag and Pamphlet
Gion Chigo Mochi ‘Chimaki’ Package
Gion Chigo Mochi Unwrapping ‘Chimaki’ Package
Gion Chigo Mochi – Served
Gion Chigo Mochi – Served
Gion Chigo Mochi – detail
Gion Chigo Mochi – Sweet and Salty Miso Filling
World War II Rationing and Wagashi
During World War II, in the interest of rationing, the government forbade the production of non-essential and luxury products and sweets were included in this prohabition. Gion Chigo Mochi was only one of 18 wagashi products in Kyoto that were permitted production during the war. Many traditional Kyoto shops did not survive the war, though Kyoto was never subject to airstrikes.
If you want to see an old shotengai (shopping arcade) the one here, Sanjokai is a good one, though not as remarkable to a foodie as Nishiki Market Street. Shotengai were the shopping centers of Japan before big-box shopping centers began to sprout up. There are a few other interesting shops in Sanjokai but mostly it offers a look into the prosaic lives of regular folks’ shopping habits. Sanjokai is quite long, running the distance between Horikawa and Senbon Streets on Sanjo Street.