While visiting Japan last December, I spent a couple of days at Sensoji – Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, and one of my favorite places to visit when I’m in the city. During my second visit, I explored a narrow alley I’d never wandered down before . . . with delicious results!
I love Sensoji for many reasons. The temple itself has beautiful (and impressive) architecture:
Nakamise Shopping Street bustles with activity in any weather, from morning until after dark:
And I love the seasonal decorations that hang above the shops.
I’ve spent many hours wandering through the side streets around the temple, but on this day in particular, I noticed a new sign at the entrance to a narrow alley–an alley I’d ignored in the past because it didn’t seem to have any shops or restaurants. In fact, it looked almost residential. However, the sign said “traditional sweet shop” in both English and Japanese, with an arrow pointing into the alley. I’m a fan of traditional Japanese sweets, so I followed the sign . . . and sure enough, I discovered a tiny shop about halfway down the alley.
I stepped through the noren that hung in the entry and found myself in a tiny but beautiful space with five small wooden tables (each of which had only two chairs) and wooden floors that bore the shine of many passing feet. The two women who worked there greeted me kindly, but with the nervous expressions I’ve come to expect when people aren’t sure I can speak Japanese. Fortunately, my answer reassured them, and their faces lit up with joy as they showed me to a table – which, by my presence, became the only occupied table in the place.
I reviewed the menu–torn between a traditional bowl of jellies and fruits and a “kinako and black honey sundae.” I love traditional jellies, but on this day the sundae won.
Kinako is roasted soybean flour, commonly used in Japanese sweets. It tastes a lot like ground-up roasted peanuts (in fact, people sometimes mistake kinako for peanut if they don’t know the difference). It’s delicious, especially on ice cream.
I took my time enjoying the sundae and the accompanying cup of delicious, dark coffee.
At first, I felt a little awkward–I don’t mind dining alone, but when you’re the only one in the restaurant (and outnumbered by the staff), it can feel a bit odd. Fortunately, a group of four women came in the door shortly after my sundae arrived, which helped me relax.
When traveling, I make a point of taking the road less traveled when I can. The experiences–and the food–are always worth the extra effort of seeking out something off the beaten path.