Mochi Diaries: Chapter 12 – Ichigo Daifuku苺大福

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I come bearing grand mochi news for you my loyal readers (minions).
My Mochi Diaries articles from the February issue onward will be now featured monthly in the Hyogo Times (A Hyogo AJET publication). Throughout the corse of this year I intend to continue publishing the Mochi Diaries simultaneously in both the Hyogo Times and here on Nihonomnom so fear not, it’s certainly not going anywhere.

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You can find the following article featured on the Hyogo Times website through the link below.
http://www.hyogoajet.net/hyogotimes/2013/02/04/new-feature-mochi-diaries-ichigo-daifuku苺大福/

Or if you would prefer to read it as part of the February 2013 issue of the Hyogo Times the PDF can be found here.
http://www.hyogoajet.net/hyogotimes/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/HT_feb13pdf.pdf

Come with us now on a journey through time and space……. and mochi!

I bid you welcome to Chapter 12 of ‘The Mochi Diaries – Ichigo Daifuku 苺大福’ and invite you to join me as I indulge in my infatuation with exploring the world of the sticky delicious Japanese sweets known as mochi!!! ☆*:.。. o(≧▽≦)o .。.:*☆

But Daniel, you ask, what exactly are these sweet squishy balls of happiness????

Well, to tell it to you short and sweet, mochi (餅) are a popular type of Japanese rice cake that can be eaten as either a sweet or savoury dish.

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Myself being a gentleman who has made mochi following the traditional process, I can attest to the fact that this is by no means a task for the fainthearted, requiring the stamina and upper body strength to work up a mochi sized hunger in any man. I imagine many of you may have also been fortunate enough to participate in a mochitsukui no hi (持ち搗きの日; mochi pounding day) over the New Year’s period alongside members of your local community.

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So how is it all done? In a nutshell mochigome(餅米; boiled sticky rice) is placed into a concave stone container and beaten with a large wooden mallet until it forms a sticky white ball of dough. From here there are a plethora of paths our mochi can take. If heading down the traditional route, it will be moulded into balls, before receiving the ever common filing of anko (餡こ; sweet red bean paste).

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Anyhow, enough about the process and more about today’s review! Without further due I present to you ichigo daifuku(苺大福)!

Now I live near a large train station, the type that sports a large gourmet food hall in the depths of its basement. Every now and then I like to take a walk through these labyrinths lined with pricey bentos, simply to steal a peak at what fancy seasonal produce is on offer. However the stalls that I always find myself gawking at are the mochiya (餅屋), frequently receiving odd looks from the staff as I drool over the intricately crafted mochi through the glass. Recently I decided to indulge in a couple of these deliciously squishy 210円 a piece delicacies, and befitting the season, ichigo daifuku was the obvious choice!

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The origin of these particular sweets is a little hazy with dozens of stores across Japan claiming to have been the creators of this winter/spring time treat. All that can be agreed upon that they emerged on the market some time during the 1980s and become an instant hit. How could it not have been, blending all the deliciousness of fresh ripe strawberries and the soft sweet delicacy of mocha? It’s certainly a win in my books.

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Let’s take a step back, however, and deconstruct the ichigo daifuku. These days they come in a wide variety of flavours with popular varieties swapping out the anko surrounding the strawberry with chocolate or cream to appeal to the modern Japanese palate. The one I present to you today is the traditional koshian ichigo daifuku; a crisp strawberry at its centre, coated in a thick sweet layer of koshian (漉し餡; bean paste) and held together by an outer layer of fresh chewy mochi.

So how does it taste?? In a word AMAZING! The selling point on this mochi for me is definitely the superbness of its texture. Somehow the slight crunch of the strawberry perfectly complements the pillowy firmness of the surrounding mochi, while the anko in between forms the perfect creamy bridge between what one would think to be clashing textures.

It was love at first bite! 4.5/5

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 11 – Kagami Mochi 鏡餅

<———– Last

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 13 – Mitsuringo 蜜りんご (Honey Apple) Namayatsuhashi 生八つ橋

Next ———>

 

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 6 – Goma Yatsuhashi 胡麻 八つ橋

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Welcome to the sixth instalment of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記)
☆〜(ゝ。∂)

I realize I have already done a post on yatsuhashi 八つ橋, however I love them so much I couldn’t help but buy a box of the goma 胡麻 (sesame) variety!

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This pack I picked up at Osaka station on my way home from a trip to wakayama last week, the top kanji says nama (fresh) yatsuhashi 生八つ橋 kingoma 金ごま (gold sesame) and the bottom kurogoma 黒ごま (black sesame). So basically the yatsuhashi in this pack are half filled with white and half black sesame paste.

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I was pleasantly surprised to find each flavor individually packed and as usual with omiyage the packaging was exquisite.
Now I am quite fond of goma flavored sweets and since these were yatsuhashi (my favorites) my expectations were high. The gold ones truthfully portrayed a sweet goma flavor with the soft chewy texture of soft yatsuhashi, the black however although aesthetically pleasing have a flavor that was just a tad too subtle, lacking the boldness one would typically associate with the sesame flavor.

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Alas I don’t think I shall be trading these in for the more common nikkei 肉桂 (cinnamon) flavored variety anytime soon, regardless it’s always nice to try something new ^_^
4/5

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 5 – Custard Matcha Motchi カスタード抹茶餅

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 7 – Ninja (Kusa) Dango 草餅

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 5 – Custard Matcha Motchi カスタード抹茶餅

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Welcome to Chapter 5 of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記) ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

Although not exactly what I would consider ‘traditional’ mochi by any means, I picked up this box of Custard Matcha Motchi カスタード抹茶餅 during a visit to Nanba 難波 a few weeks ago, at an omiyage stand in Osaka station.

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To be honest I was was nothing short of impressed by the intricacy and level of detail that went into making these omochi, as you can see from the pictures they actually have 4 layers!!!

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It begins with a centre of custard, however this an example of miss-used English borrow word that I frequently notice in Japan. Rather than custard, it is actually a popular ;Japanese-style caramel pudding generally called ‘purin’ カスタードプリン which although certainly different from what most might think to be ‘pudding’ is certainly delicious in its own right.

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This is coated in a thin layer of anko ;餡 (sweet red bean paste), and the whole thing is then encapsulated in a sweet chewy layer of matcha flavoured mochi dough. Finally the finished product is rolled in ground matcha powder which adhere’s to the sticky outer surface.

With this much complexity in such a tiny delicious package these Custard Matcha Motchi were truly an inception experience of flavours! Although I usually go for the more traditional omiyage these were delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed them!!

4/5

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Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 4 – Kibidango (吉備団子)

<———– Last

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 6 – Goma Yatsuhashi 胡麻 八つ橋

Next ———>

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 4 – Kibidango (吉備団子)

Welcome to Chapter 4 of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記) ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

In this post I shall be introducing Kibidango 吉備団子, now I’m well aware that dango and mochi aren’t exactly the same thing, but they are both made from mochiko 糯粉 (rice flour) and I’d like this segment to cover a wide array of omiyage and traditional Japanese sweets!

Anyhow, the reason for featuring kibidango today I will tie into a future post, about the annual mandatory Japanese summer school for new incoming JETs in Kobe each year. After studying for 2 days in groups under the instruction of a Japanese sensei, on the third day each study group had to present their Japanese language skills in front of all the other new arrivals and the staff at the KEC (Kobe board of education, essentially our employers).

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My group decided upon a play the Japanese Fable of Momotaro ももたろ (Peach Boy), which is a famous Japanese fairytale and I was cast in the lead role as Momotaro. After learning our lines and making our costumes, our sensei surprised us by bringing us authentic Kibidango to use as props (and later devour) in the play.

So onto the actual kibidango, the box that sensei presented us with is surely the most intricately packaged omiyage I have ever set eyes upon, the outer art detailing the characters of the Momotaro tale in a cute childish watercolour kind of style.

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Upon opening the box there was a little card with similar artwork to the exterior and the story inside. The kibidango themselves were each individually wrapped in little wax paper balls with one character from the fable printed on each. Now prior to tasting these I would have picked mochi over dango any day of the week, however this I suspect was due to the fact I had never tasted proper dango prior to this and only the cheep and nasty combini versions.

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Although tiny in size the flavour was amazing, subtly sweet, delicate and melt in your mouth. Lets just say I was tempted to eat them all whist watching the other groups give their speeches after the play was over, rather than sharing them with the rest of my group!

These came close to what I would consider the perfect Japanese confectionery. 4.5/5

This is a statute of Momotaro in Okayama 岡山, residents claim that Okayama was the original setting of the fairytale its main street is named Momotarō-Odōri in the Peach Boy’s honor and annually in August an Okayama Momotaro Festival is held annually for three days. According to locals it was based on the legend of Prince Kibitsuhiko’s battle against the ogre Ura, who is said to have lived in Kino-jo (Demon’s Castle) in the area around Soja 総社.

This is a short and sweet version of:

The Story of Momotaro the Peach Boy
Once upon a time there was an old man and his old wife living in a village in Japan.
The old man, called Ojiisan was a woodcutter and his wife, Obaasan, a
washerwoman. They lived alone as they had no children.
One day the old woman went to the river and had just begun washing the clothes
when, to her surprise, a giant peach came floating down the river. It was the biggest
peach she had ever seen and she coaxed it out of the river and took it home for
supper.
As she was getting ready to cut the peach in half, the sound of a human voice came
from inside the peach. “Wait! Don’t cut me!” said the voice. Suddenly the peach split
open and a beautiful baby boy jumped out of the peach.
The old people were astounded. But the baby said, “Don’t be afraid. Heaven saw
how lonely you were without any children and sent me to you.”
So the old people happily took the baby to be their son. Since he was born from a
peach, they named him Momotaro (Momo means peach, Taro is a popular boys name) They loved him very much and raised him to be a fine boy.
Years went by and Momotaro grew into a fine young man, making his parents even
happier. But times were changing and people were having a very hard time because
more and more oni (ogres) were ravaging their coasts and nobody knew what to do.
When Momotaro was about 15 years old, he went to his parents and said, “In a distant part of the sea there is an island named Onigashima (ogre island.) The oni
often come to our land and do bad things like carrying people away and stealing their
things. So I’m going to go to Onigashima and fight the oni and free the prisoners
there and bring back the stolen treasure.”
The old people were surprised, but proud of Momotaro for wanting to help other
people. Obaasan fixed him his favourite food of millet dumplings called kibidango
which she wrapped up in a furoshiki cloth and he went on his journey.
On the way, Momotaro met a spotted dog (inu), a monkey (saru) and a pheasant
(kiji) and gave them each a kibidango which encouraged them to join him. Being a
good leader, Momotaro relied on the special talents of each animal and encouraged
them to work together and become friends.
When they reached the sea Momotaro had to find a boat in order to sail to the
Onigashima where the oni had built a fortified castle. The companions had to find a
way into the castle in secret to surprise the oni. The pheasant flew over the walls, the
monkey climbed up and opened the gate and Momotaro and the dog rushed in and
overpowered the gatekeeper. Finally, Momotaro forced the oni leader to surrender
and to promise never to do wicked things again. Then Momotaro and his friends took
home all the prisoners and the treasure they’d found locked up in the Onigashima.
Ojiisan and Obaasan rejoiced to see Momotaro return home safely.

I found this really cute video of the story of Momotaro, and although its in Japanese you can get the jist, its kinda funny for me as most of our lines in the play were ripped right from this =P

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 3 – Yatsuhashi 八つ橋

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 5 – Custard Matcha Motchi カスタード抹茶餅

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The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 3 – Yatsuhashi 八つ橋

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Welcome to Chapter 3 of ‘The Mochi Diaries’ (餅の日記) ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

Today I shall be introducing the original mochi that began my infatuation many years ago during a trip to Kyoto!! Without further a due I present my holy grail of mochi the triangular, deviously delicious Nama Yatsuhashi 生八つ橋!!!!

Nothing screams like ‘I’v just visited Kyoto’ than bringing back a box of
oh these as omiyage お土産. With an origin dating back over 300 years yatsuhashi were named after Yatsuhashi Kengyo八橋 検校, a famous composer and player of koto (a traditional Japanese 6 stringed instrument) music. He was the man who is credited as the first musician to introduce and enlighten the general public into the art of koto and so  his is often regarded as the “Father of Modern Koto.”

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Four years after his death in 1685 a vendor near Shogoin Taisha began selling a sweet that was shaped like a koto in his memory. By the turn of the 20th century Yatsuhashi began to become popular as an omiyage gift from Kyoto, since as a baked cookie with ingredients composing of only pounded rice, cinnamon and sugar, it has a very long shelf life of around 3 months.

Now there are two types of yatsuhashi, baked 八つ橋 and unbaked 生八つ橋..The un-baked are those of which I am particularly fond of and are called hijiri 聖 (meaning monk or priest) or nama 生 (raw) yatsuhashi.

The soft hijiri/nama kind began to be sold in the 1960’s. When making this variety instead of baking the dough, it is steamed, flattened and cut into little squares. Azuki 小豆 (red bean paste) is then placed in the centre of each piece and folded into a triangle, not dissimilar to ravioli.

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I actually purchased this box not in Kyoto but in Osaka on my home from the Tenjin Matsuri 天神祭り last week in Sakuranomiya.
Evidently I was quite ecstatic to come across yatsuhashi outside of Kyoto as its not really a place I frequent all that often, so my opportunities to nom the deliciousness that is yatsuhashi are far and wide!!

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If you actually look at the packaging I found the writing is a little amusing, alongside the name namayatsuhashi 生八橋 these mochi are also regionally known as O-Tabe お食べ(lit. please eat). On these particular ones the name written on the box is kyounotabe 京のタベ, although this literally translates to ‘Capital Eat’ the meaning is something more akin to Kyoto Yatsuhashi.

Upon opening the box I was presented with a box being half filled with lightly brown coloured triangular sweets and the other half a pale green, these correspond to the flavours which are nikkei 肉桂 (cinnamon) and matcha抹茶 (green tea), that said the centre of both consists of the same is koshian 漉し餡 (red bean paste) filling.

Now these are the most standard and plainly flavoured yatsuhashi (they in fact come in dozens of seasonal and regional varieties), however they are a time and tested favourite amongst the Japanese. Having tried these sweets a decade ago when I visited Kyoto as an exchange student indulging in the soft, delicate texture complimented by the mildly sweetened koshian centre, my senses were overwhelmed and mind flooded with bitter-sweet nostalgia.

To this day in my opinion yatsuhashi represent the perfect mochi culinary experience, biting into one is infatuating enough to you to a whole new world of wagashi heaven, if you ever find yourself around Kyoto keep an eye out for them!! 5/5

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Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 2 – Doyo-mochi 土用餅 (Doyo no Hi Special)

<———– Last

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 4 – Kibidango (吉備団子)

Next ———>

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 2 – Doyo-mochi 土用餅 (Doyo no Hi Special)

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Welcome to the second Mochi diaries and this one is a special edition review!
So as I discussed at length in my earlier post Doyo no Hi 土用の日 has come and gone, despite the lingering heat. So along with Unagi 鰻 and all the other U (う) foods that are supposed to help one endure the heat, there is a kind of mochi that is only sold for 2 days a year during Doyo which appropriately named Doyo-mochi 土用餅, apparently grants the same heat endurance properties.

When I first saw the large displays at the supermarkets selling them I initially thought they were miniature ohagi お萩 (a rice ball coated with sweetened red beans) which was not a bad guess, considering they are pretty much the exact same thing but instead with a mochi centre.

It’s in fact shares many similarities to Akafuku Mochi 赤福餅, a specialty product from Ise-shi 伊勢市 (Ise City), in Mie-ken 三重県 (Mie Prefecture).

So basically they are quite a simple mochi that is supposed to have many calories, to give the eager strength to endure hot summer days. As stated above the basics are that thy have a small mochi inside that has a thick coating of anko 餡こ on the outside.
One thing I did note however was that the mochi itself seemed to have a marshmallow like quality to it, that was much lighter and less dense that most mochi tends to be.

Now at the end of the day it’s hard for me to not like a mochi but the combination of disappointing centre and it’s fragility of the whole (half of them fell apart) I was less than blown away so 3/5.

 

Want to read more Mochi Diaries Posts?

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 1 – Kusa Mochi 草餅

<———– Last

The Mochi Diaries: Chapter 3 – Yatsuhashi 八つ橋

Next ———>

Doyou no Ushi no Hi 土用の丑の日 (The Day of The Ox)

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So I would like to delve into the concept of Doyo 土用. I feel it is particularly relevant as I sit here broiling at my desk at school on a 34degree day, as for some reason it took Kyoto-sensei’s fancy to save electricity and turn all the air cons off this morning.

Historically Doyo 土用 refers to the last 18 days of each season, however in modern usage it’s limited only to the summer 夏 period and can literally be translated to ‘midsummer’.

But why ‘The Day of the Ox’? Well the Ox is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac and the standard Japanese calendar attributes one of these animals to each day of the year. Now according to the Chinese calendar system, autumn tends to begin around August 7 and so 18 days before typically is around now, however due to there being 18 days and only 12 zodiac animals, it is not at all uncommon for there to be 2 Doyou no ushi no hi in one year.

This year in 2012 Doyou no ushi no hi 土用の丑の日 (The Day of The Ox) falls on Friday the 29th of July. This day is regarded as being the hottest and most difficult time throughout the entire year.

On this day Japanese people eat unagi 鰻 (broiled eel) as it is believed to break the summer heat and help with recovering from fatigue.

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Now like most things I encounter in Japan, at first I was perplexed as to how consuming eels would make the summer more bearable.
I guess in short the reasoning is that unagi has a lot of calories due to a high fat content, as well as a large amount of nutrients, so it makes sense that such a food would give you the energy to not become a flaccid, unproductive lump during the summer months (exactly how I feel at this moment).

Alas if you happen to be in Japan around late July each year, it will be hard to miss the plethora of displays in front of every supermarket, department store, combini and donburi place advertising steamed and grilled unagi 鰻 (eel).

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These are characterized by the noburi 幟 (flags/banners) that are ever present outside of each establishment which simply have the character for U (う) printed on them and stylized to resemble an eel (as U is the first character in the word unagi). They generally look something along the lines of this.

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Here is a more commercial looking one outside a Sukiya すき家 restaurant.

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Also in addition to consuming unagi during the Doyo period, there has also been the longstanding belief in japan that eating any food that begins with the letter U (う) will provide replenish stamina lost due to the summer heat.
Just off the top of my head there’s Umeboshi 梅干して (preserved Japanese apricots), Udon 饂飩 (thick wheat noodles) and Ushi 牛 (beef).
I’m going to go ahead and debate the effectiveness of such a claim, as i have eaten all three of those foods in the last day and I’m still broiling ( ;´Д`)

At the end of the day there are many other foods that seem slightly more appropriate to eat to help with fatigue, so why eel??
Well there is a story that comes along with that which takes us back to the Edo period 江戸時代 (1603 to 1868) in Edo (now Tokyo 東京).
An eel vendor was experiencing poor sales due to unagi being seen as unsophisticated and a lower-class food at the time. He sought the council of a man named Gennai Hiraga, who was a well known pharmacologist, painter, inventor and master of Dutch studies (Western learning).

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Hiraga made him a sign that said, ‘Doyo is the day of the Ox, unagi begins with a U so it’s a good time to eat it!’
After learning the sign was the advice of Hiraga, it drew in so much business for the shop owner that other shops followed suit. It being so popular that it has endured as a tradition that is still practiced throughout Japan today.

On a final note there is another popular Japanese food that I have noticed going hand in hand with unagi to provide relief from the summer heat, which is Doyo Mochi 土用餅, but I’ll explore that further in the next Mochi Diaries ☆〜(ゝ。∂)