Posts Tagged mochi

Montreal Spring Matsuri

Last weekend Yusuke and I went to a spring festival held at Montreal’s Japanese Language Center. It was fairly small, but featured excellent food and crafts, along with little games for kids and demonstrations by a karate school and Montreal’s taiko drum group. Yusuke was again impressed at the number of Japanese people in Montreal who turn up for festivals. It’s a small community, but it seems that the majority participates in cultural events like this.

We had heard about the festival from our ex-neighbourhood bakery Boulangerie Pâtisserie Yuki. So visiting their table was definitely on the agenda. Yuki’s creations are always beautiful, and even though we were too full from breakfast to eat anpan, we enjoyed ogling the spread.

Yuki's wares

Yuki's wares

Anpan and cream pan

Anpan and cream pan

Green tea cheesecakes and Mont Blanc pastries

Green tea cheesecakes and Mont Blanc pastries

Before going to the matsuri, I had my heart set on daifuku, and I was not disappointed. Daifuku is a soft chewy ball of mochi with some type of filling or flavouring. I chose the ichigo daifuku variety, which is stuffed with sweet anko (red beans) and a juicy strawberry. The outside is coated with powdered sugar, which of course I managed to sprinkle over the table and my black jacket. Yusuke had matcha custard daifuku (wow).

Ichigo daifuku

Ichigo daifuku

Ichigo daifuku: bite

Ichigo daifuku: bite

Yusuke selected the lunch box below from the many tables of tasty homemade bentos. It had rice, karage (fried chicken), and assorted veggies.

Bento lunch

Bento lunch

I couldn’t resist onigiri with umeboshi (picked plum); I’ve been craving that unique tangy taste. I also bought a tuna onigiri for lunch at work later in the week.

Wrapped onigiri

Wrapped onigiri

All told, it was a tasty morning.

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Ryokan meals

A highlight of our December trip to Japan was a sojourn to the mountain resort town Hakone. We stayed in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. One of the best things about staying in a ryokan is that your food comes to you. Thus, we spent our time between trips down to the hot springs lounging in our room in our yukata waiting for tasty meals.

When we arrived at the ryokan, we were given slippers and escorted to our room, where the table was already set with green tea and wagashi (sweets).

Tea at the ryokan

Tea at the ryokan

Later in the evening, after a hot spring bath, the hostess arrived with our dinner. Wow. I quite like having small portions of many different dishes to try, although it was a bit overwhelming. I don’t think I could eat like this every day; it was almost too refined. But it fabulously wonderful, and a meal that I’ll never forget. Our appetizers are pictured below…can’t remember exactly what they were. I think this is Yusuke’s meal; mine didn’t include any meat (just fish).

Assorted appetizers

Assorted appetizers

Below is one of my dishes: a mound of sticky black rice with snapper, a white fish. It had a light, vaguely salty sauce. On the very top is fu, shaped like a momiji (maple) leaf and dyed with bright colours for decoration (see here and here for more about fu). The final garnish is wasabi: much smoother and purer than the kind that comes in a tube.

Black rice and snapper

Black rice and snapper

This dish is a hollowed-out baked potato stuffed with seafood (shrimp, crab, etc.) and potatoes mixed with a delicately cheesy sauce.

Seafood-potato gratin

Seafood-potato gratin

This was my absolute favourite, and no, it’s not a desert. The dish is puréed daikon (a type of radish) with crab meat. It was so smooth and melty in my mouth. Again, it’s topped with coloured fu.

Beautiful daikon

Beautiful daikon

And of course, we had miso soup with rich mountain vegetables: bamboo shoots, green onions, seaweed, and nameko mushrooms.

Miso soup

Miso soup

Finally, the dessert featured a small, sweet mochi ball with fruit: strawberry, tangerine, mango, and passion fruit, plus a chestnut and anko. Perfect.

Dessert

Dessert

In the morning, after another hot springs dip, our breakfast arrived. I eat oatmeal and a banana religiously for breakfast, or in case of need, something else that involves processed carbs and/or fruit. So I wasn’t sure how I would handle a non-sweet breakfast. I managed much better than I expected! (Although I did eat rather more than my fair share of the rice.) I was particularly surprised at my ability to eat fish for breakfast. It was simply grilled and served with soy sauce, so the flavour was mild. Less appealing was the carrot and daikon kinpira (normally I love it; just too spicy for the morning), the dish with squid, and the salty seaweed salad. However, I quite enjoyed the miso soup and the potato salad with green vegetables. I’m still sticking to oatmeal, though…doesn’t really go well with mackerel…

Breakfast: what a spread!

Breakfast: what a spread!

UPDATE: I had forgotten to add that the “squid dish” served for breakfast was shiokara, a term which I verified by googling “squid guts.” From Yusuke’s explanation, basically it’s the entire squid minced up and cooked in a salty spicy sauce. It wasn’t bad, but for breakfast? I’ll pass. Not exactly the breakfast of champions.

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Zōni soup

Zoni

Zoni

Zōni is a traditional dish for New Year’s. We ate it in Japan for the holiday, but Yusuke made it recently here, too. The soup has a clear broth with soy sauce and a bit of dashi (bonito powder). Various veggies can be used, so we went our usual standbys of carrots, mushrooms, spinach, and green and white onions. The key ingredient is mochi, which is sticky rice pounded into a glutinous mass. Mochi has a strong place in traditional culture. While we Westerners see the Man in the Moon in the shadows and craters, the Japanese see a rabbit with a mallet making mochi!

Rabbits making mochi

Rabbits making mochi


Image from cesare a.k.a synkronicity (http://www.flickr.com/photos/55046325@N00/3149792735/)

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December sweets

Japanese sweets are very intricate, varied, exotic, and difficult to describe to foreigners who have never had anything that is comparable. The making of wagashi (image search and more pics), or traditional confectionery, is a true art in Japan. We learned on a TV show that wagashi apprentices spend about 15 years perfecting their anko before attempting to make the actual sweets. They are considered masters after 30 or 40 years of practice.

Here, though, I just have some of the everyday desserts that we tried during our December trip to Japan.

Goza souro

Goza souro

This picture shows goza souro being made in the department store Sogo. It’s essentially a sandwich of a soft, dense batter (like a pancake) and sweet bean paste.

French toast with azuki

French toast with azuki


This was Yusuke’s dessert at Denny’s, of all places. Only the menu wasn’t anything like what you find in North America. A prime example was this French toast with azuki beans and pumpkin ice cream.

Chocolate mochi

Chocolate mochi


Mochi is glutinous rice that is pounded— traditionally with a mallet— into a soft, sticky, erm, mass. It can be eaten in many ways, but these mochi balls were coated in cocoa powder. One of Yusuke’s sisters, a chocoholic, ate nearly all of the ones that we bought for the family, but I managed to snatch a taste of one.

Kuzu-kiri

Kuzu-kiri


Kuzu-kiri consists of flat gelatinous, noodle-like stuff made of starch from the kuzu plant. My explanation in words doesn’t make much sense, so more pics are here and here. The chilled “noodles,” for lack of a better word, are dipped in a sweet syrup to give them flavour. Yusuke describes the taste as very “gentle.”

Shiruko

Oshiruko


I wrote about oshiruko (sweet azuki “soup”) before, but it was particularly wonderful at this sweets shop in Kamakura. The homemade mochi was lightly toasted and perfectly chewy. Yuuummmmm.

Rum ball

Rum ball


We had fabulous rum balls at Yusuke’s uncle’s house. They were bigger than a golf ball, filled with dense rum cake and coated in chocolate, tastefully served on a Hello Kitty plate. Very rich, but perfectly balanced by green tea.

Ohagi

Ohagi


Ohagi is an extremely yummy sweet—definitely one of my most favourite new discoveries on our trip. It’s basically squished sweet rice coated with sweet bean paste (anko) or other ingredients. For example, we also had black sesame and edamame bean ohagi. It’s not sugary-sweet like Western cakes or cookies (even though it does have TONS of sugar). The about.com article describes it well and so does the explanation on Just Hungry.

Year of the Cow

Year of the Cow


We had these cute sweets, decorated in honour of the Year of the Cow, at a friend’s house. They are manju, a small cake filled with azuki paste. The outside has a thin layer of hardened icing. The effect is somewhat similar to a petit-four.

Sweet potato and chestnut cake

Sweet potato and chestnut cake


This cake was selected by Yusuke to serve as his birthday cake. It was not overly sweet, instead having a more subtle and rich taste, made with sweet potatoes, pumpkin, chestnuts, and light icing. He didn’t want to admit it was his birthday, though…
ult

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Azuki interlude

Sweet azuki beans

Sweet azuki beans

Azuki, a mild red bean, is a famous East Asian staple food that is especially prominent in Japanese desserts. They’re used to make the sweet bean paste used in anpan, for example. Sometimes you’ll see the word spelled “adzuki,” but Yusuke doesn’t think this transliteration is correct.

Pictured above is one common preparation of the beans that Yusuke made recently with beans bought in bulk from a little health food store near our apartment. He boiled the beans for about 10 minutes, then drained off the water. He boiled them again in fresh water until they were soft, meanwhile adding lots and lots of sugar, both brown and white. Then he let them soak overnight (which essential!). We just reheated the beans on the stove before eating them. Fabulous with green tea. You can eat the beans on their own, or every better, with mochi. Which I think will constitute an interlude of its own at some point…

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