Seien – Always Changing Jewel-like Agar Desserts
Seien is the café of over 135-year-old wagashi sweets shop “Daikokuden.”
At Seien, you can enjoy Japanese sweets inside a historical Kyoto machiya townhouse designated as an important building by the city with a view of a quaint courtyard.
Passing through the store’s impressive noren shop curtain, you’re greeted by a display of colorful, eye-catching wagashi sweets.
Heading toward the back of the store, you’ll find the entrance to Seien.
One of the most important things to Seien is the forever changing natural landscapes of the seasons. That’s why they display different colored and designed noren shop curtains and change the items on their menu with each new season.
Seien’s signature dish – a jelly-like dessert called kohaku-nagashi – is also subject to this fondness for change.
While this is a staple dessert at Seien, the flavor of the syrup drizzled on top changes monthly to fit seasonal ingredients and specific events.
The kohaku-nagashi flavor for January is white miso. Why white miso in particular?
Because not only is white miso considered special to those in Kyoto, but it’s also often used in a traditional New Years' dish called zoni – a soup of vegetables and mochi.
While this soup is made differently by every household – with some people using dashi stock or regular brown miso – in Kyoto, it’s often made with white miso and is simultaneously both sweet and heavily dashi flavored.
Even in white miso loving Kyoto, Seien is the only place that turns the pale fermented soybean paste into syrup to be poured over agar jelly.
Taking a trip to Kyoto’s cherished Seien and getting a taste of its desserts that reflect both Kyoto’s culture and seasons is sure to give you more of an understanding of those who call the ancient city home.
Kohaku-nagashi – Agar Jelly
/ ¥750 (inc. tax)
Agar is an intriguingly soft, transparent and, most importantly, delicious jelly-like dessert with an incredibly smooth texture.
The dessert is drizzled with a flavored syrup that changes at the start of each month.
If you want to experience new and exciting flavors, then make coming to Seien a monthly ritual.
Pictured above is April’s cherry blossom flavor.
/ ¥1,100 (inc. tax)
Zenzai is a Japanese winter classic of azuki red bean soup and grilled mochi.
The plump beans are boiled in sugar to give them a wonderfully refined sweetness that contrasts beautifully with the flavors of the grilled mochi.
The combination of the charred mochi and elegantly sweet red beans is exactly what your body needs to warm its bones on an icy winter day.
Accompanying the zenzai soup is a pinch of salted dried seaweed.
When eaten in between mouthfuls of the soup, the saltiness of the seaweed creates a wonderful contrast.
In summer, Seien also serves a cold version of zenzai.
/ 1 Piece: ¥216|5 Pieces: ¥1,188|10 Pieces ¥2,268|30 Pieces: ¥6,804 (inc. tax)
Seien’s Wakaayu are soft sugary pastries made to look like swimming fish that are only available from mid-May to mid-September.
Inside the egg, sugar and flour-based dough you’ll find a contrastively very Japanese ingredient, mochi.
As these pastries are relatively small, they’re great for a little midafternoon snack.
Kasuteira （Take out）
/ Left: Full size: ¥1,188｜Right: Half size: ¥594 (inc. tax)
Seien’s Katsuteira cakes are another of the store’s signature desserts.
These egg-based cakes are said to have originated from the Castella cakes of Seien’s parent store Daikokuden.
The richly flavorful Katsuteira contain a natural eggy sweetness and have the most wonderful moist texture. These gentle, airy aspects of the cakes stand in stark contrast to the rough texture of the large grains of sugar that dot the beautifully browned outsides.
We highly recommend enjoying your Katsuteira with either tea or coffee.
Note that the cakes keep for about five days.