Visitors coming to Japan to experience both traditional customs and creative inventions of the land of the rising sun often feature Nara in their journey. This is no surprise, as the small town proudly holds the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nara was home to the emperor’s dwelling before it relocated to Kyoto, and it is studded with temples and shrines, shops and houses, made with traditionally Japanese architectural shapes.
The most iconic feature of Nara is probably the much appreciated and beloved Japanese spotted deer, regarded as a sacred animal here. You can find these furred attention-seekers wandering through the city, mainly freely mingling in Nara Park and gently grabbing your clothes in the hope of receiving a yummy shika senbei, deer cracker.
Aside from flashing your camera at a beautiful and majestic Buddha-shaped statue and checking out each and every corner in search of the cutest deer-themed gadget (or a real-life deer instead), you should definitely scope out local Nara sweet shops for these mouthwatering Nara specialties.
In keeping with its long history, Nara provides myriads of traditional tea and sweet shops serving bite-sized, skillfully crafted wagashi, including varieties of dango (small round-shaped pieces of mochi on a skewer), mochi rice cakes, dorayaki (red bean paste sandwiched between two pancakes) and delicious warabi-mochi. See our Beginner's Guide to Mochi to learn more about traditional Japanese sweets.
However, if it’s not your first time in Japan or you already got the chance to enjoy classic mochi and dorayaki elsewhere, or else you're one of those adventurous souls, make sure to check out this alternative selection of Japanese desserts, from traditional Nara sweets featuring local Nara produce to funky modern treats.
Here are 5 tasty treats to try in Nara!
Pamba Pipi is a cotton candy shop located in the quiet town of Nara whose products are definitely worth taking a picture. You can get your cotton candy in a cup or covered in a plastic bag (a tour-friendly measure), or you can decide to have your treat to yourself on a stick. Either way, you’ll end up with a extra-large funky cloud of tastiness. Unusual flavors include green tea and caffè latte or milk tea, but also raspberries, pineapple, umeshu (plum wine), kinako (soybean flour), coffee, pumpkin, tomato... Make your choice, but don't let deer get at your cotton candy!
Please note that flavors may vary depending on the season.
Kuzu-kiri is made of kudzu (arrowroot) starch and is actually listed among Nara’s traditional sweets. A refined specialty composed of jiggling translucent strips served with kinako and kuromitsu (black syrup). Eating kuzu-kiri with your chopsticks is a must-try thrilling experience, as well as a bit of a battle.
You can enjoy this and other kudzu-based sweets at many specialized cafes and sweet shops in Nara, such as Yoshinokuzu Sakura Cafè (closed on Thursdays), Nakai Shinpudo (closed on Wednesdays), or Kasuga-an (listed below) as well.
Toraya no Nyanko is the result of a Japanese old couple putting their spin on traditional mochi. The owners are cat lovers with a passion for felines that’s off the charts! Cats definitely get the spotlight here, with colorful paw or cat-shaped mochi, cat pictures covering the walls, and other themed artsy decorations.
Another occasion to relish stretchy mochi texture and dive into Japanese kawaii culture, a visit to Toraya no Nyanko will surely make you smile.
Please note that Toraya is closed on Tuesdays.
Kasuga-an’s tatami-floored tea house is a corner of heaven for you to restore your energy while sipping some warm green tea and munching on traditional wagashi. However delicious and perfect with tea mochi and monaka can be, Kasuga-an’s signature is satsuma-yaki. This mild-flavored sweet takes the shape of sastuma-imo, Japanese sweet potato, hence the name. The bean paste core is wrapped in a flour and egg-based batter. Then, the sweet is gently grilled on bamboo skewers until it reaches a golden brown tone. With a firm texture and subtle taste, satsuma-yaki is at its heart the perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea.
The tea house is closed on Tuesdays.
Finally, you are in for some lip-smacking fall specials. Nara region is renown among locals for kaki, or persimmon, cultivation. In fact, soil and temperature conditions make it the perfect spot for producing top-notch fruits.
Ishii Sweets, a specialized sweet shop in Nara, stars these regional products in a variety of auburn, heavenly-sweet delicacies, from dried kaki with a chestnut filling (the perfect autumn-themed twist on the traditional anko bean paste filled mochi), to moist and soft cakes, to a bright-yellow kaki-shaped mochi (if you want to keep it classic) to jellies, jams, kaki monaka (sandwiched rice-based wafers, usually with anko filling), and more! If you happen to stroll through Nara during the fall season, don’t miss out on this gem!
Please be reminded that the shop is closed on Wednesdays.