The Sweet Escape

by Shellycious

I got home in New York yesterday afternoon, feeling exhausted and starving. The fridge was empty, so I decided to head out to the nearest grocery to grab some ingredients for dinner. Walking on the street, I felt extremely unwelcomed by the smoky, gray sky and piles of dirty snow. Oh how I miss Japan, the lovely place where flowers are still blossoming and trees are illuminated with golden leaves.

The short trip to the grocery was pretty depressing because nothing was fresh. Why is my sashimi replaced by the dead meat of salmon? Why is my handmade  silk tofu packed in those garish plastic boxes? Why does my soymilk have the label SILK on and says low-calorie? My mind kept drifting back to the markets I have been in Japan as I strolled down the aisles without any desires to get food. Deal with it, I told myself and ended up with two greek yogurts and a grapefruit.

Enough, let’s get back to my exciting food adventure in Japan. Not surprisingly, I had lots of lots of sweets and desserts there because I have the biggest sweet tooth. My philosophy for desserts is that people should have separate stomachs for desserts, meaning no matter how full they are, there should always be some room reserved for those best creations in the world. I sticked to my philosophy while in Japan and ate my way through all the desserts I could find; proudly, I gained 3 kilos because of that, but it’s worth it.

My main obesession is certainly those Japanese traditional confectionery known as Wagashi (和菓子). Based on mochi, or glutinuous rice flour, Wagash is usually served with green tea. Red bean paste is a classic filling for Wagashi, but sweet potato paste, dried fruits, and some parts of flowers (cherry blossoms) are also used depending on the season. To me, visiting Wagashi stores is always an aesthetically pleasing experience as I look over the counter those edible art pieces that are beautifully colored, delicately shaped, and of course mouthwatering. The authentic Wagashi are not cheap however, so I tried to refrain myself from buying too many, but when I was at the Umezono Confectionery in Asakusa, I lost self-control and went crazy “purchasing” pieces of art because they were so gorgeous!! Speaking of the taste, all of them are, to my surprise, VERY sweet but in a different way from American corn-syrup sweetness because it’s tinted with a flowery taste. The texture is as smooth as you can imagine and because each piece is small, you won’t feel too full even after chucking down five pieces like I did. I wished I had a chance to attend the Wagashi-making workshop while I was in Kyoto, where Wagashi was originated. Be sure to make reservation in advance for those workshops because they are really popular; I learned my lesson :(

Apart from those traditional Wagashi, I also enjoyed the Japanese version of Western desserts. I had the best soybean ice-cream in Kyoto and was impressed by the taro flavor ice-cream with black sesame paste that I bought from a random food stand at Shijuku subway station. My favorite is the chestnutcake.

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