Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Wonderful Wagashi!

Wagashi are traditional, Japanese sweets.  Wa, in this case, is used to signify the Japanese-ness of the particular treat (foreign desserts have a different name).  Wagashi are something I had zero encounters with until I began to study Tea.  As I learned in Tea class, a small treat is always eaten before drinking matcha, the traditional green tea.  The lingering sweetness on the tongue perfectly offsets the bitterness of matcha, which one drinks immediately after admiring and eating a delicate wagashi.  

After a few Tea lessons, I suddenly realized that I was passing a wagashi shop practically every time I left my house!  Every few weeks, the store hangs a new and beautiful poster, which advertises the season's perfectly appropriate delicacy.  "Season", in Japan, is not confined to Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.  There is Cherry Blossom season.  There is Chrysanthemum season. There is the month of May, the season when iris are most appropriately displayed.  There is a winter kimono season, a summer kimono season, and a super-summer kimono season.  Tea Ceremony procedures are varied by season and micro-season, as are the utensils used.

The wagashi depicted on the latest, seasonal, shop poster was so beautiful that I had to ask my Tea instructor about it.  

"This wagashi is called Fumanju.  It's like mochi, but made with flour instead of rice.  The center is filled with bean paste, and the outer layer is tinged green by using seaweed.  Fumanju is wrapped in a fresh, green bamboo leaf, and is most appropriate for summer.  It's one of my favorite wagashi!"

I wonder if I can have the poster when they are done with it?

Beautiful, isn't it?  But ...ummmmm...seaweed and bean paste?  Fumanju sure doesn't sound very dessert-y!  It took me several months of Tea lessons and wagashi-eating to learn to appreciate their delicate play of flavors.  My sugar-bombed, American palate had to re-educate itself to enjoy what I was eating. So give yourself some time, find a wagashi shop, point at a beautiful treat, and start tasting!


-The Tofu Fox

Disclaimer:  I do my best to make sure all my information is accurate.  However, details may change or I may just be flat-out wrong.  Please let me know if something needs a correction.  Thank-you!

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