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Chobunya Shichimi Togarashi shop

Near the Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in the Northwest section of Kyoto lies Chobunya, the only shop in the city where you can get your shichimi togarashi (seven spice powder) blended just the way you like it. Shichimi togarashi actually originated from China but developed over the years into a uniquely Japanese condiment. More fragrant and herbal than hot and spicy, the depth of flavor comes from the seven (or more) different ingredients, typically: dried red chili pepper, roasted black and white sesame seeds, dried ground yuzu (citron), hemp seeds, poppy seeds, dried seaweed and my personal favorite, sansho peppercorns.

Japanese food is not typically spicy, and Kyoto cuisine is even less so. Shichimi togarashi is used as an accent to add a little kick to certain foods and is usually found at the table, in small bamboo containers, instead of in the kitchen. At home, it’s a nice condiment to have on hand: Try a sprinkling some on a steaming bowl of udon noodles, or atop a skewer of yakitori. A little of this deeply aromatic spice is all you really need.

chobunya shop sign
Above: The sign for Chobunya shichimi togarashi shop. Below: the exterior of the shop.
chobunya shop

Chobunya is located a few blocks west of Kitano Tenmangu shrine.

Address: 54-8, shiraume machi kitanoshita,
kita-ku, kyoto-shi
Tel: 075-467-0217

Left: The colorful ingredients of shichimi togarashi. Chobunya is the only place in Kyoto where you can custom make your own unique blend.
Ingredients for shichimi togarashi

I visited Chobunya recently to see this blending in action. I expected an old-fashioned shop with deeply aged woodwork, but found a sparkling, brightly lit storefront instead. Upon walking in, I was enveloped by the aroma of yuzu and pepper. The seven ingredients were contained in rectangular bins with transparent lids to show their colorful display. The young proprietor explained the process while mixing packages for customers in line.

There is a recommended standard mix, but customers can specify a little more sansho, red pepper or any favorite ingredient to taste. The owner told me that Kyoto’s blend is typically less spicy than togarashi found in other regions. I ordered mine with extra sansho and he lifted the lids and measured spoonfuls of each component into a simple paper bag. In a matter of seconds, my personal blend was ready.

And it WAS delicious. The experience inspired me to try making my own blend at home, but some of the ingredients, like dried yuzu and sansho, aren’t easy to find in the West.

If you’re in the neighborhood, perhaps for the Kitano Tenmangu flea market held each month on the 25th, it’s a worthy stop. The packages feature the old-fashioned Chobunya label and make nice lightweight gifts. The spice stays fresh for up to a year in the freezer.

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