The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Summer Sweet Treats in Japan

My name is Jean, and I have a sweet tooth. Yes, that is a confession to an unhealthy addiction. Unfortunately for me, patiserries and supermarkets all around Tokyo have not taken much notice that such an addiction is indeed unhealthy, blatantly displaying a beautiful variety of cakes, pastries and Japanese-style sweets on the shelves. While I dislike the humidity and warmth that summer brings in Tokyo, I do love the Japanese sweets that come out to play during this season.

Warabimochi is technically not a true mochi as it is made from bracken starch and not glutinous rice. Warabimochi is a translucent sweet with a soft jelly-like texture that is quite refreshing to eat after it has been cooled in the fridge. The only type of warabimochi I've seen are cut pieces covered with kinako (toasted soy powder). Apparently warabi starch is quite expensive so there are cheap versions sold in supermarkets that are made using cheaper materials such as potato starch and tapioca starch. The other day, I bought 'An Kuromitsu-iri Warabimochi' (as it says on the label). This means that it wasn't the usual warabimochi, but flavoured with kuromitsu, which is a type of syrup made from kurozato, the supposedly "healthy" dark brown sugar from Okinawa (sorry for the sarcasm - it just seems counter-intuitive to label any sugary things as "healthy"). The ingredient list on the pack of warabimochi I bought contained warabi starch as well as other starches, and of course the featured flavour of kuromitsu. And indeed, the warabimochi had a subtle taste akin to molasses.

The packet of Kuromitsu Warabimochi, and how it looks like underneath the kinako (note that warabimochi is not usually so dark as this type which is due to the kuromitsu):

I also bought a packet of 'Mizu Youkan & Kuzu Sakura' sweets, and although the name refers to cherry blossoms ("sakura"), and except for the plastic sakura leaves covering the sweets, they didn't taste nor look anything like the sweets I associate with the name sakura (e.g. sakuramochi which is made with preserved leaves from the sakura tree). Mizu youkan is a jelly-like sweet made from an (red (adzuki) bean paste) and kanten (aka agar agar). (I also made an attempt at making it a couple of years ago.) The other sweet in the box was kuzumochi, which is a ball of translucent gel with a filling of anko (smooth adzuki bean paste). Like warabimochi, kuzumochi is not made from mochi flour but from kuzu starch which many would consider as synonymous with arrowroot starch. Both the mizu youkan and the kuzumochi were delicious.

(By the way, I don't really understand why so many non-Asian people dislike sweet beans. I wonder if it's actually the taste that they are opposed to, or the idea of beans being sweet. Unlike most beans, adzuki beans is naturally quite sweet, and I have never had them in savoury form.)

The box of Mizu Youkan (on the right) and Kuzumochi (left):

I know Strawberry Shortcake is not strictly a Japanese-style sweet, but it is uniquely Japanese because the term shortcake in other countries mean something quite different. According to this source, in England, shortcake is similar to the Scottish shortbread, which is a buttery biscuit (or cookie for Americans because biscuit to Americans refers to something similar to scones). In America, shortcake is made using sweet biscuit (in the American definition of 'biscuit', i.e. scones). The Japanese shortcake refers to a dessert made using sponge cake, whipped cream and strawberries, and is a very popular cake to have during Christmas in Japan. I'm sure all the variations of shortcake in different cultures are all delicious in their own way, but I probably would prefer the Japanese version because it is lighter and less creamy than the western versions. I certainly would prefer this cake for Christmas rather than the traditional fruit cake!

Shortcake, the Japanese version:

No comments:

Post a Comment