When we were in Kyoto, we were intrigued by the variety of traditional Japanese snacks available in just one shop alone which we’d visited. It is a 老舗 shinise, which means that it has been around for a very long time, and the selection was far more extensive than what we would probably find in all the snack shops we’d seen elsewhere combined. Senbei and other forms of rice biscuits in all thinkable Japanese-inspired flavours from the savory sansho and sakura-ebi to sweet ones like kurogoma and matcha. But this comes as no surprise of course. Kyoto is the old capital of Japan for more than 1000 years. Many of these snacks have their roots deep in the art of 和菓子 wagashi, the traditional artform of Japanese sweet-making. But some of these are classified as 南蛮菓子 nanban-gashi, brought into Japan by the Spanish and Portuguese missionaries more than 500 years ago. The most famous of these “imported confectioneries” must surely be the カステラケーキ kasutera cake which was derived from the Portuguese “Pão de Castela”. It has since become a speciality of Nagasaki. Another lesser known confection which is essentially a nanban-gashi as well, is a cookie known as そばぼうろ Soba Boro, These have since become a popular snack which is synonymously associated to Kyoto, where visitors would buy packets of them home as omiyage. But the recipe is fairly straightforward, so now you can make them on your own as well!
The art of 和菓子 Wagashi making is one of the finer elements of Japanese culinary culture and for me, it is the epitome of its levels of exquisiteness and artistry of its gastronomic heritage. Most wagashi used a grain-based starch as the main ingredient, usually glutinous rice or Japanese short-grained rice, but 蕨餅 Warabimochi is an interesting form of Wagashi using starch extracted from the roots and lower stems of the bracken fern instead. It is an extremely popular snack in the Kansai region and I remember first tasting it as part of the dessert served with a Kyoto-styled Tofu meal when we were in Osaka 2 years back. The texture was unique, somewhat chewy with quite a bit of bite yet soft and delicate at the same time. So it is quite difficult to describe but remains memorable until today.
Our last day in Kansai and we were not about to waste it. Chanced upon a new book (then) on cafes and patisseries in Osaka just the night before at a local bookstore in Shinsaibashi. Perfect! We had a quick browse and shortlisted two seemingly promising places to visit on our last day. First off in the morning was to Pâtisserie & Salon de Thé Coichi located near Tamatsukuri Station 玉造駅 which is just a couple of stops away from where we stayed. They open really early for a patisserie, starting the day at 8 am instead of the usual 10 or 11 am, but we don’t mind at all! Just in time for some pastry breakfast! Or so we thought!
7th day in Kansai, back to Osaka after our short trips to Kyoto and Nara. Time to pay our due visit to the Osaka Aquarium. Alas, the good weather we’d had earlier in the week took a turn and brought persistent showers who lasted for hours, and sometimes entire afternoons. That kinda dampened our spirits, quite literally. Oh well, our last 3 days in Kansai and we are determined to make the best out of it.
Located in the western end of the metropolitan by the bay, the Osaka Aquarium is home to a large variety of marine animals from all over the world, including Kai kun, one of the few whale sharks in captivity. Here are some photos which I snapped in haste, which do not accurately portray the scale and grandeur of the place for sure. Do enjoy them nonetheless…
I remember our first walk down Shinsaibashisuji after we’d touched down at Osaka on our first day. It was exciting as we’d read so much about this shopping street, packed with all sorts of shops selling all kinds of stuff from facial masks to fugu. There was a cake shop that specialises in castellas, and a tea house with all grades of Kyoto Uji matcha. The wide corridor is also flanked with many eateries for all sorts of cuisines and desserts. And the one which made us stop and stare hard into their window the most has to be Dalloyau.
The bento lunch was cold but tasty, and alas, too short. We continued our way around Nara, crossing Nara Koen and making our way to Todaiji 東大寺, an ancient buddhist shrine, which boasts many “firsts” in this ancient city.
I’m “fast forwarding” my Japan posts to bring to you guys the Le Cordon Bleu Macarons from Kobe! “Nan desu de?!” some of you might ask. ‘Cos in barely 2 weeks’ time on 20th March is Le Jour de Macaron aka Macarons Day! This day which celebrates the popular French confectionery was initiated by no other than the man who revolutionised macaron gastronomie, Pierre Hermé. Since its inauguration 7 years ago, Macarons Day is celebrated by many patisseries around France, with notable names like Sadaharu Aoki, Dalloyau, Laurent Duchêne and Jean-Paul Hévin, just to name a few. It has since spread across the Altantic to NYC and Toronto, as well as the rest of the world! And over at Aspiring Bakers, we are having celebrating it for one whole month with “Aspiring Bakers #17 – March Macaron Madness!”
We visited Kobe as a day trip on our second last day in Kansai. It was an impromptu decision actually as we’d initially decided to stay put in Osaka after visiting Kyoto and Nara a couple of days back. But we kinda ran out of places to visit in Osaka, which is pretty much of a business and commercial hub, with much less character and history than its neighbouring cities and towns. So it was off to Kobe for more patisserie hunting!