Cafes in Oita: Friends フレンズ
Oita's Castle Park Cafes: Friends
Joanne G. Yoshida
Years ago before there was Starbucks and the ubiquitous white mugs, there was a distinctly Japanese brand of coffee shops, called kissaten.
A kissaten back then was a place to savor not only the coffee but also the touch of the porcelain handle that you hold the cup with and the sound the cup made when it touched the saucer.
The owner of a kissaten stood in front of a shelf or cabinet stacked with delicately patterned cups and saucers and would choose one off the shelf to go with the moment. Two people at one table might get a different pattern, as the choice was made depending on what coffee or tea was ordered. These coffee shops were sometimes dark and sometimes connected with the outside through a homey window with curtains.
Friends has the sense of being from that culture of kissaten, and yet has remained solidly as a cornerstone of its Niage-machi neighborhood, just catty corner from the remains of Oita's Castle.
Exit the Castle Park from the North West, and pass through the torii of the Sho-ei Shrine. Be careful crossing as there is a bend in the road where cars can be hard to see if you are a pedestrian. Cross to the opposite corner, where you can safely enter the refuge of Friends.
The two owners of Friends never take a day off. Their dedication to this long-standing Oita caf is evident in the homey touches which give this coffee shop it's own style of perfection. Harmony can be found in the balance of the patterned cups and saucers, the colored granules sparkling forth from the sugar pots on the tables, the smiling porcelain cats placed around the caf and the photographs of Oita's natural scenery and Hasu (lotus) flowers on the walls.
Lunch and dinner menu items include hot sandwiches, cold sandwiches, pasta (from Kinoko Spaghetti to Nasu Bolonese), pilaf, and Higawari Lunch and Dinner boxes. These are lunch or dinner boxes which change daily with small tastes of assorted side dishes arranged in compartments. They come with miso soup and include such traditional lunch box items as ebi-furai, hamburg, katsu, and nimono. (Higawari lunch, 840 yen includes coffee)
Cans of Key Coffee are stacked neatly around the shop, and a glass case displays handmade cakes and breads including roll cake, shortcake, Madeleine's, walnut bread, and an-pan.
Stacks of magazines and manga can be found on racks - another feature of a traditional kissaten.
Friends was recently renovated so everything sparkles including a new large screen TV. On a personal note, I preferred the pre-television atmosphere but I am probably a 'relic' in this regard.
Your visit to friends may take you back to a nostalgic time from your past, or it may keep you anchored in the present, to the views of the Castle Park and its sun-lit greenery.
The proof of Friends' timelessness and unwavering attention to taste and harmony of ingredients might just be...in its pudding.
FRIENDS CAKE SALON
Google map of Friends
Text + images by Joanne G. Yoshida
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