Nara Park confession
A lot of people travel to Nara, Japan to visit the deer in Nara Park. I have to confess, I never went there. I lived in Japan for two months, and went back recently to do a tourist vacation.
For that trip, we arrived in Tokyo and spent a couple of days there. Then we visited Kyoto, Japan before ending up in Nara. By the time I got to Nara, I didn’t want to see the touristy places.
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Nara food near Kintetsu-Nara station and Higashimuki Shopping Arcade
Most of my time in Nara was spent window shopping and eating. We stayed near the Kintetsu-Nara station, a very convenient location to visit many of the tourist attractions.
It’s about 5 minutes by foot to the Kofuku-ji Temple and Nara Park. You can also walk about 20 minutes to visit the Todai-ji Temple, which features Nara’s Big Buddha statue.
I highly recommend this area as the location is excellent for shopping, dining, and exploring the unique gifts and food of Nara! It has a network of small streets and alleys full of shops and restaurants, as well as a covered shopping arcade called Higashimuki.
My favorite Nara food finds were Gram Cafe & Pancakes, Floresta, a specialty food store with a fishcake stand, and an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Piano. The fishcake place and the Italian restaurant were inside of the shopping arcade, while Gram Cafe and Floresta were just adjacent to the Higashimuki arcade.
Higashimuki and Kofukuji temple history
According to the Higashimuki site, the name Higashimuki means “east-facing”. This name is in reference to the fact that the shopping arcade is on the east side of the famous Kofukuji temple.
Kofukuji temple was built during the Nara period in the 8th century by the Fujiwara family, the most powerful family in Japan at the time.
It was the custom of that time to have all the buildings in that area face the Kofukuji temple. This is why the temple was built on the east side of the townhouses and stores.
Hence, the name Higashimuki references the fact that the shopping area faces Kofukuji temple in the east.
Nara food spot: Gram Cafe & Pancakes
Gram Cafe and Pancakes is a Nara food restaurant located on the second floor at Alte, 5, Konishi-cho. Their famous specialty seems to be the fluffy pancakes that they only make at certain times of the day, but there are several options for you to choose for your breakfast, brunch or lunch.
They serve everything from sandwiches, soups, pancakes, and French toast to parfaits, coffee, and blended drinks.
We ordered their salmon pancakes and fluffy pancakes. The salmon pancakes dish comes with pancakes, avocado, a side salad, and slices of smoked salmon on top.
It was a delicious cacophony of sweet and savory. Highly recommended! The price was also very reasonable, so it’s a great find for some Nara food.
The fluffy pancakes had a softer and less dense texture than the salmon pancakes. It’s a solid choice for those who prefer sweet flavors, but I personally liked the salmon pancakes more because of the mixture of sweet and savory.
Nara food spot: Floresta Nature Doughnuts
Right across from the building that houses Gram Cafe and Pancakes is a very cute doughnut shop called Floresta.
In 2002, Floresta started selling its doughnuts from the back of a car at flea markets in Osaka and Nara. From that humble beginning, they grew their business to include over a dozen stores across Japan.
Floresta’s unique selling point is that it is an eco-conscious business with attention to details. This comes across in their commitment to reduce packaging, use natural sweeteners, and source local organic ingredients.
Related to Nara food: The Best Kyoto Itinerary for Nature Lovers
The result is an array of delicious doughnuts in unique flavors such as sesame-coco & cocoa and cranberry glazed doughnuts.
Their doughnuts are about three-fourths the size of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and the texture is denser, more cake-like. They are surprisingly filling for their small sizes.
I didn’t like the sweet doughnut I ordered because it was too sweet for my taste (your mileage may vary), but I loved the poppy seed doughnut.
It had a slightly savory taste to it that offset the sweetness. Add a cup of green tea, and you’ll have a pleasant morning meal.
The setting of Floresta itself is small, with only two or three circular tables and some wooden stools for seating.
This lends itself to a very cozy atmosphere and a great way to chill out in the
Nara food spot: Trattoria Piano
Trattoria Piano is located at the Sanjo-Doji entrance of the Higashimuki shopping arcade. They have very artsy branding which features their piano logo on the signage.
There’s a pillar inside where they house the wood-fired oven to make their pizzas. The pillar is made of white and black tiles to mimic the look of piano keys.
Their flooring is also made up of black and white tiles arranged to look like piano keys. It’s a neat sight!
According to the Higashimuki website, the trattoria is a casual Italian restaurant. They source all of their ingredients locally from Nara.
Prices were affordable and comparable to similar cafes in the US.
They are known for their wood-fired oven Napoli pizza, but I wasn’t in the mood for pizza. I got their meat spaghetti and the prosciutto salad.
Both were delicious, but my favorite was the salad. The vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the prosciutto added the right amount of saltiness and chewy texture to the mix.
One thing to note is that they don’t allow you to take your leftovers home. So be mindful of how much you can really eat in one sitting here.
Nara food spot: Fishcakes in Nara
The third Nara food place that I loved was a specialty food store inside the Higashimuki shopping arcade. The store has a fishcake stand out in front where you can point to the fishcakes you want to try and they’ll bag it for you.
In the back of the store is a cozy seating area where you can sit and munch on your snacks. The fishcakes struck a good balance of texture and savory taste for me. I recommend this place for some savory snacks if you’re shopping in the area and want to try some Nara food!
The places above are my favorite picks for non-sushi food in Nara.
What are your favorite food spots in Nara? Share your recommendations below.
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