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Who knew Kyoto’s gardens could taste so sweet?

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Four boxes of Garden Pudding blend into the surroundings at Arashiyama Onsen Wa Cafe Fiume in Kyoto, with the Togetsukyo bridge in the background.

By Katsuo Kokaji / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterKYOTO — Right in front of me was a sweet garden landscape, a common feature of the ancient capital. Gardens are found all over Kyoto, not just at temples and shrines, but also at public facilities, hotels and commercial buildings.

At a cafe in the Arashiyama area, the “garden” placed before me could be held in my hands.

A 15-centimeter-square box seemingly held some plants amid a miniature rock garden. To my eyes, it seemed to contain black soil, green moss, white grains of sand, even a moss-covered rock evoking the passage of time among blueish and ruddy rugged stones.

This combination of harmony and roughness is actually edible.

Called Garden Pudding (¥800), this dessert is served at Arashiyama Onsen Wa Cafe Fiume, close to the iconic Togetsukyo bridge. The soil is created using finely crushed rusk mixed with cocoa powder. Wasanbon traditional high-quality sugar is used for the white sand, while matcha green tea powder evokes the moss. The moss-covered rock turns out to be matcha-flavored rusk while the smaller stones are chocolates. The plants are herbs. The thick pudding under the surface is pleasantly contrasted by the crunchy notes above.

When the cafe opened four years ago, head chef Junichi Sugino, 51, was asked to develop a dish to represent Kyoto. He came up with the scenery of Miyama, an area north of Kyoto that he often visits on his days off. The Miyama area is famous for having a number of houses with thatched roofs amid mountains, a scenery that many consider typical of Japan.

“I wanted to ‘condense’ Miyama’s great nature and re-create it as a garden,” Sugino said.

The term karesansui refers to Japanese gardens that do not use water but just sand and stone to express a landscape of mountains and streams.

Such a karensansui garden is re-created on a plate at Salon de Kanbayashi, a cafe in the Higashiyama area. Its matcha green tea opera cake (¥850) sits like a mountain on the plate while a flowing river is expressed with green tea powder from Kanbayashi Shunso Honten, a long-established matcha manufacturer based in Uji, Kyoto Prefecture. Amid the stream is a rock symbolized by a sweetened chestnut.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    The green tea opera cake at Salon de Kanbayashi in Kyoto is inspired by karesansui gardening, evoking a mountain and stream with other objects.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    “Bonsai” Garden Tapioca Milk Tea is sold at The Alley in Kyoto.

The cafe is housed in a complex that also provides wedding and restaurant services. The complex has been renovated from a private residence that was built in 1925 and, of course, there is a garden on the premises.

“The cake was inspired by the garden and developed using French cuisine techniques and Japanese sensibility,” said the complex’s restaurant manager, Satoshi Hatsuda, 49.

Meanwhile, at a tea stand in the Shijo area, I also encountered what looked like bonsai with small leaves popping up from black soil in a pot. The presentation gave me the feel of life springing forth.

This, however, was actually a cup of milk tea with mint leaves placed on a surface layer of cocoa chips. Called “Bonsai” Garden Tapioca Milk Tea, this item at The Alley, a Taiwan-based chain with outlets across Japan, sells for ¥600 for 500 milliliters or ¥700 for 700 milliliters. It was first developed in Taiwan, according to the chain.

During my visit to Kyoto, I also enjoyed looking at actual gardens, including the garden at the World Heritage site Tenryuji temple in the Arashiyama area. The real thing and the sweet re-creations had something in common: Each represented its own universe.Speech

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