Sake Gumi
If you know me, you won't be put off by the title, because you will know I am prone to hyperbole and you will know that my hyperbole is usually in jest. In this case, however, I am utterly sincere.

What I didn't know about Kyoto, a city renowned for its beautiful temples, was that cafe culture is incredibly alive there. In a country that guzzles green tea (hot and iced), it's a little surprising to see a cafe on practically every block of this elegant, quiet metropolis.

Aya and I were blessed to be staying with her friend, Chie, who works at a university there, and who was intimately familiar with the burgeoning arts scene which is fed by this network of bookshops and cafes.

Kyoto was in a the midst of a heat wave when we got there -- 95+ degree heat plus serious humidity which equaled upwards of 5 showers a day, since Chie's apartment had no air conditioning, not even a fan. But, now, looking back on it, I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Every morning we woke to the screeching grind of cicadas and a bright, merciless sun.

On the second day of our stay there, Chie took off work in the morning to take us on an excursion -- she didn't say much about where exactly it was we were going, only that it was "up a mountain."

We climbed staircase upon staircase with the midday sun beating down on us (we had not gotten hats at this point) and eventually we came upon this sign:

Little did I know at the time, this was just the beginning. More stairs lay ahead...

Then this little sign kept us going:

Did I mention there was a heat wave?

At this point, Aya's brain was melted

This plaque looks like it marks the entrance of the actual place, but in reality what lay behind the wall was an unpaved pathway that led through a quiet grove of trees, until finally, finally, finally, we came upon a small house that looked out onto a breathtaking view of Kyoto.

We entered, went up the stairs to the second floor, removed our shoes, and well, I don't think I can adequately describe the feeling of entering that place, since the experience was so inextricably bound to our exhaustion, our thirst and hunger, the quiet relief from the nagging cicadas and the heat.

I do believe the creators of this place intended for this to be the way their customers come to Mo-an, that its setting includes every single step of the climb to the top. The journey is part of its ambience.

The lunch set that day consisted of:

Corn, okra, and eggplant soup with frozen figs topped with strawberry jam.

Cold soba chicken salad with plum sauce, chives, julienned shiso, and myoga

Affogato (espresso and vanilla ice cream)

Mo-an -- in my opinion, the most beautiful cafe in the world.

Kyoto, Japan
T: +081.075.761.2100
Directions and points of access here.
Lunch-taimu: 11:30am-2pm (cafe open until 6pm)



  • Thanks for translating the sign, Kayo. Please go to this place if you are ever in Kyoto. I’m sure your experience will be completely different and equally wondrous.

    (Those figs…I mean, if you can imagine being completely overheated and exhausted and biting into an icy, sweet, intense fruit…)

    tmonkey on

  • wow T totally gorgeous. those figs are true gems. somehow it’s so japanese to make you wander through a labyrinth, keep you waiting, panting, begging, just to get to paradise.

    isn’t it? Mo-an definitely wanting you guys to go through that. only makes the experience more memorable though, right? so clever…

    4am! hope your jetlag clears soon. until then, please keep sharing your eats from Japan!

    kayoko on

  • Tmonkey, Congrats on tastespotting 18476!

    Yamahomo on

  • I somehow read the title as the Most Beautiful Cake and was waiting for it. That soba looks gorgeous! Do you know where to get myoga in NY?

    Sonja on

  • i think you can get myoga at Sunrise, no? but hella expensive. my mom used to grow them in the garden- that was the best. lemme ask her about that.

    kayoko on

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