In the eyes of many people who are not me, I have failed on many fronts as a foreigner in Japan. One of my many failures is not having gone to Kyoto during my long stay in the country. Apparently, this means I have failed to appreciate the culture and am simply existing in my gaijin bubble. Never mind that I have penetrated the deepest and most intimate recesses of Tokyo so often that I could be arrested for my perversity. Never mind that I know more about sumo than even an old curmudgeon who spends his days in Ryogoku chowing down on chanko nabe (sumo stew). Never mind that I can tell you the name of most of the food makers in Japan because I've sampled such a broad range of snacks. I haven't been to Kyoto!
One might ask why I haven't been to Kyoto, Japan's former capital. Well, the reasons are relatively simple. First, it's expensive to take a Shinkansen and I'd have to stay in a hotel overnight. Day trips to surrounding environs don't set me back nearly as much as travel outside the area and contrary to popular belief, foreigners who work in Japan aren't rolling in dough. The other reasons really relate to the fact that no one has told me something about the area which would lure me there. The food is traditional Japanese cuisine, particularly kaiseki (multi-course meals of traditional dishes that are beautifully presented) which sounds nice enough, but my husband doesn't like such food and I'm often so-so on it. Of course, one of my many character flaws is that I don't enjoy seafood and am indifferent to fish. The sweets, I've been told, are lots and lots of green tea delicacies, and I've mentioned before that I'm just "okay" with green tea. So, there's not much on the food front.
There are, however, temples! Yes, temples are so rare across Japan that I may actually walk as long as 20 minutes sometimes without seeing one. I realize the Kyoto temples are different. They're older, bigger, and exist in Kyoto. I enjoy a glance at a good temple, don't get me wrong, but I'm not going to pop for a Shinkansen ticket to see more of them. All in all, if someone covered my costs, I'd be delighted to go to Kyoto, but it just doesn't seem like it's a place that would light my fire. Yes, I'm a big "fail".
Fortunately for me, my Japanese friends are far greater successes than I and occasionally go to Kyoto. They're the reason I know so much about the lures (for others, clearly, I'm immune to the "bait"). One of those friends was kind enough to bring me back a bag of Kyoto Fukudaruma cookies as a souvenir. This delighted me no end because I could tell by looking at them that they are kin to soba boro cookies, which I absolutely love.
Like soba borrow, they have a burnt sugar taste which resembles dark caramel with a side of buckwheat. They are light and crispy. The main difference between soba boro and these fukudaruma (which means, "luck doll", by the way) is that these little fellows have what looks like a mustache and are smaller and harder. They mainly are a little denser in texture and slightly less intense in taste. They were so good, it was hard not to eat them by the handful like popcorn.
While I can't say that fukudaruma cookies are good enough to lure me to Kyoto, I can say that they are delicious and that I'd buy them again if they showed up somewhere near me. If you like crispy cookies with an earthy grain and dark sugar taste, you should pick them up as well.