Japan Mar 2011 Day 2 – A Taste of Spring 岚山 竹路庵 和菓子
No trip to Japan would be complete without sampling authentic Japanese cuisine. We ain’t very keen on Kaiseki 懷石料理 though. Exquisite it might be, the damage is not going to be dainty on our wallets. Our overnight stay at an mini onsen resort in Hakone during our last trip to the Kanto region came with a mini Kaiseki dinner, so its more or less a “been there done that” for us. But we’d not had 和菓子 wagashi yet. Not the authentic ones at least, unless you count the countless sticks of dango we’d bought from supermarkets! So we are definitely not going to miss the opportunity this time round to try some and zoomed in on those offered by 竹路庵, a very famous wagashi shop from 岚山 Arashiyama. We’d read online that the flagship store in western Kyoto is always packed with tourists! Thankfully they have a stall located at the basement of Daimaru in Umeda Osaka which is well supplied with freshly made confections sent from Kyoto 2-3 times a day. That definitely saved us the hassle of queuing, and not to mention giving us a preview of Kyoto, and a taste of spring…
So many delectable delights and so little tummy space! We had to settle for 4 of their seasonal items (春の季). They are afterall only available during this time of the year!
Kusa mochi 草餅（くさもち）traditionally made from Japanese mugwort, which is very very similar to 艾草 in Taiwan. The confection is unique, with a distinct saltiness to it, not to mention a rather “grassy” bitter aftertaste. But this is very elegantly counterbalanced by the anko filling within. The latter is not overtly sweet. Just nice to give a very smooth edge to the overall tasting experience.
Anko, sweetened azuki bean paste with bits of whole beans for good texture contrast.
Daifuku 大福 with matcha (japanese green tea) filling topped with a ripened locally cultivated strawberry. Once again very delicately balanced, the sweet mung bean filling is flavoured with green tea from Uji 宇治 om southern Kyoto, very very fragrant indeed! This is well normalised by the juicy strawberry on top, cutting through the sweetness with a hint of sourness while escalating the aromatics to new heights. The highly perfumed Japanese strawberry… need I say more? 🙂
Sakura mochi 道明寺桜餅 using dōmyōji-ko 道明寺粉, glutinous rice flour, a Kansai variation of the seasonal Japanese sweet only available during this time of the year to usher in the coming of spring. Ironically, the pickled sakura flower on top came from the previous year’s blooms. Very beautiful, almost too beautiful to be eaten. But we had it whole, yes, sakura leaves, flower and all… But the glutinous rice flour gave the dessert quite a bit of heft, filling our stomachs very quickly. That kinda greyed the otherwise very “pink” tasting experience.
This is my personal favorite, also sakura mochi but the Kanto variation, which uses shiratama-ko 白玉粉 instead. The pastry is lightly flavoured with sakura essence making it more aromatic than the Kansai counterpart. The blushing shade of pink evokes one’s imagination of a tree full of sakura blossoms during Hanami. Kire-ne….
Zooming in on the sakura leaf wrapped around the pastry. The saltiness of the pickled leaf tames the sweetness from the anko filling, preventing it from overpowering the overall flavours.
Very smooth anko filling. Much smoother than the one in kusa mochi…
Overall the experience was absolutely enthralling. I had imagined wagashi to be simple and somewhat, uninteresting, compared to western dessert making. Afterall the ingredient list is rather short and recurring for many desserts. But I was mistaken; the flavours can be so similar but yet subtly different with so much depth.
We had green tea with the wagashi and the experience was amazing! You should try it sometime…