If you have experienced New Year's in Japan, you are most likely familiar with the traditional New Year's dishes, Osechi-ryōri, one of them being kuromame, a dish consisting of black soy beans cooked in sweet syrup. These soybeans are supposed to symbolize hard working spirit and healthy living in the New Year. But Kuromame can not only be enjoyed during the New Year's festivities, and I want to share with you a gorgeous place in Kyoto, that makes eating kuromame not just enjoyable but also a true experience for the senses!
The place I want to tell you about is located in Gion, near Kyoto Nishiki Market, and it's a teahouse called Kuromame Saan Kitao, which has been established since 1892. Here you can enjoy the famous kuromame from Tamba, which are said to be the best ones in all of Japan. The whole menu is cored around the black soybeans, which are supposed to be extremely good for your overall health. They are a great source of protein, as well as fiber, vitamin K, iron, magnesium and copper and there are even studies that attribute the ability to reverse graying of the hair to these little powerhouses. Talk about "Eat your veggies"!
One the ground floor you can find a variety of bean products as well as sweets, which make for a great gift or a nice treat at home, while the second floor is the actual teahouse.
We decided to have a set consisting of miso soup, kuromame in a sweet syrup, similar to the traditional Osechi style, fresh tofu and a delicious kuromame rice dish, that perfectly paired steamed rice with the slightly salty, umami taste of the soybeans. Simple, but oh so delicious!
The highlight of our dish, however, were the mitarashi dango that came with roasted soybeans that we ground ourselves. You might wonder now "What, I have to prepare part of the dish myself?!". Sort of, but trust me, this is where the fun comes in!
Our table was equipped with a stone mill; the black soybeans are to be placed on top of the mill from where they slide through a small hole into the actual mill. Then it's time to show some muscle power by moving the top part of the mill in a circular motion with the attached grip, to grind those beans down! After a minute or two of showing that your arm workout at the gym has been successful, you will see the soybean powder (kinako) drizzle from between the mill stones to the outer rim of the mill. From there you can gently brush the powder into your bowl. Make sure you place your sieve over your bowl first, to ensure you don't have any leftover bean crumbs ruining that perfect powder you just created!
And then it's time to dust your fresh mitarashi dango with your hard earned soybean powder! Trust me, having ground it yourself, this soybean powder will taste even better!
If you love the sweet smell of freshly ground black soy beans, and love some unique sweets with an additional fun factor, then don't wait any longer and make sure you visit Kuromame Saan Kitao!