Month: June 2012

A Survey of Delicious Japanese Pastries

Taiyaki!

My favorite Japanese treat. Taiyaki literally means ‘baked sea bream’. But really, they’re these thick pancakes shaped like fish and filled with either custard or sweet red bean paste. I personally favour the custard, but the beans aren’t bad either. Sometimes you also see them being sold just as circles (kind of like the pancake version of a pizza pocket). My favorite part is biting into them when you first get them. This one place where I usually go (a little bakery in the Dojomonzen shopping arcade) keeps them hot in cast iron moulds until you order them. I really like biting into the warm pancake and tasting the super hot custard. It’s like delicious lava. It’s so good. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure the circle-versions can’t be called ‘taiyaki’, because, well, they don’t look like fish. Whenever you see the circle versions at bakeries, normally they’re just listed on the menu as クリーム (cream) or カスタード (custard). So to order one, you’d say something like “クリームをひとつお願いします。” (One cream please).

Anyway, if you ever go to Japan, you should definitely try them. You can find them in most Japanese-style bakeries, or being sold at festival stalls.

Hiroshima Peace Park and Atom Bomb Museum

Paper cranes folded in memory of Sadako, a young girl from Hiroshima who died from Leukemia after being exposed to radiation from the A-Bomb in 1945 when she was 2. Thousands of these cranes are folded in careful chains and left all around the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Japan. Especially large concentrations can be found around the children’s peace memorial. 

Porn Floyd

A funny story from last week in my Anthropology class. Our professor, Yasuno sensei, was spending a good hour and a half discussing the construct of ‘sexy’ with us, bless her. Sexy in Japan, sexy in the West, sexy… everywhere. Really a fun way to spend some time. Anyway, we got on the topic of porn (of course). In Japan, pornos are colloquially referred to as ‘pinkueiga’ or ‘pink movies’ ピンク映画。And so a lot of other risqué things here adopt the prefix ‘pinku’ as well. So, because of that my professor was under the impression that the band ‘Pink Floyd’ was a naughty porn band.

Pretty funny.

I explained to her that no, alas, they were not a porn band… I couldn’t quite find the words to explain to her in Japanese what exactly a psychedelic rock band was, so I just said they were philosophical instead. 

For the record, Pink Floyd’s name actually comes from a combination of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, two American blues guitarists who passed away in the 70s. This was because in their early days, Pink Floyd saw itself as more of a jazz band.

Sweet Japanese Wagashi

Last Thursday, Yasuno sensei took our Cultural Anthropology class to visit a Japanese confectionary shop around the corner from Yamaguchi Prefectural University. There we learned all about wagashi. These amaimono (sweet things) are a traditional go-along with green tea in Japan.

wagashi closeup
There is so much artistry in created wagashi. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

These starchy, delicious confections dissolve on your tongue. They’re made with different combinations of azuki beans, mochi and sometimes fruit.  Then, they’re crafted into delicate shapes, usually to show seasonal trends.

The one I tried was ‘botan’ (peony), which are currently blooming in Japan. Summer treats are often semi-transparent. The effort to make the wagashi transparent is so that they have a ‘cooling’ effect, to combat the hot summer weather.

How to eat wagashi

Using the little wooden spear you’re given to eat the wagashi,  you’re meant to quarter the mochi, and then eat each piece slowly, savouring your green tea in between.

wagashi cut into quarters
Wagashi, quartered! (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

The maker who served us our sweets and tea was very knowledgeable. He studied for 20 years in Kyoto before opening up his little off-the-main-road confectionary here.

For those of you who don’t know Japan, streets are often a little more convoluted than I’m used to in North America. Off-the-road literally means sort of hidden among a bunch of regular houses with a small bike-path-type trail leading to it.

We asked him how he got any business being so far off the main road, and he said mostly word-of-mouth. People tend to value each others’ opinions very highly in Japan, so it’s no surprise he’s able to keep a fully stocked shop so hidden away.

There was also an adorable cigarette disposal bin shaped like a cat. I couldn’t resist. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)

Wagashi store address

The name of the place is 涼の郷, which I think translates to ‘Ryō no Go’.

2 Chome-7-25 Sakurabatake, Yamaguchi-shi, Yamaguchi-ken 753-0021, Japan

Japanese vocabulary

Japanese sweet — wagashi, わがし, 和菓子

Sweet stuff — amaimono, あまいもの, 甘いもの

Peony — botan, ぼたん, 牡丹