Like many other places in Japan, Nara is also popular for some of its food. One of the unique food you should try while in Nara is chagayu – a simple dish of rice cooked with tea.
You may have heard about rice cooked with water before, which is known as “okayu” in Japan. Okayu is not to be mistaken with ochazuke in which tea is poured on top of the rice. Okayu is a recommended food when you are not feeling well due to sickness or overeating as it is soothing for the digestive tract and easy to digest.
If you happen to plan a trip to Nara, then you cannot miss out on chagayu, which is a variant of okayu!
Chagayu, or tea porridge, is a simple dish made from rice, water, and tea such as hojicha or roast green tea. It has been a popular food for the Yamato people since the ancient times. When Nara was dominated by the Yamato people, the popularity of chagayu spread and has since become one of the delicacies that represent the prefecture. Chagayu is a common home-cooked meal in Nara and is usually served for breakfast; thus the saying, “Mornings in Nara begin with tea porridge.”
Chagayu has a long history. It has been served in a traditional Japanese Buddhist festival called Omizutori which is held every year. This tradition has been carried out for more than 1,200 years at the Nigatsudo Hall of Todaiji Temple. The festival is meant to cleanse the sins of people and to welcome the spring of the new year. After the event ends, that’s when the cherry blossoms start to bloom which marks the arrival of spring.
Now that you have learned what chagayu is, you may be salivating and wondering where you can find this dish in Nara. Here are some cafe recommendations which can satisfy your curiosity about chagayu:
Tounochaya is a shop specializing in chagayu so you can be assured that their chagayu is good. You have the option to choose between Chagayu Bento or Chagayu Kaiseki. Unlike many other places that use hojicha to cook the rice gruel, Tounochaya cooks the rice with ryokucha green tea instead. If you would like to be served with antique tableware, you should make an advanced reservation.
Open: 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM
Scheduled holidays: Tuesday
2. Machiya Cafe Kanna
— 町屋かふぇ 環奈 (@kanna6724) January 13, 2017
Machiya Cafe Kanna is just about a 10-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station. Other than chagayu, they also serve other food such as the traditional sweet called “kannanokobako,” and other desserts like matcha jelly, rice dumplings, and sakura mochi. Hence, this is the cafe to be at if you want to try various things with chagayu.
Open: 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM (sometimes extended)
Scheduled holidays: not fixed
After trying out chagayu at the cafes recommended above, feel free to leave some comments and let us know what you think about the food! Chagayu is definitely a must-try if you love to explore traditional Japanese food.