There is a Japanese traditional food that is a Japanese favourite but almost all foreign people disliked it. That is ‘Mochi’ Rice cake. Many western people have said that “Mochi is not enjoyable even if it is as sweet or savoury, and however it’s grilled or cooked with sauce”… That is until now. Mochi became very popular just recently at least in London. It has been used as topping on some dessert such as Frozen Yogurt and Ice Cream.
Because I knew western people didn’t like the texture I was avoiding to make any sweet with the Mochi texture in London. However, there is huge demand for Mochi nowadays. What is happening? It was so unthinkable before.
So I created this sweet with Mochi and Raspberry to make it looks like a western cake.
Raspberry Mochi Cake
How does it look?
It was great weather last sunday. Shamefully I was not planning anything particular to do in this lovely day so decided to go for a walk locally to my first visit to Highgate Cemetery. It is a famous cemetery that well-known people are buried.
I have several English friends who like to go cemeteries. They say it is calming and makes them feel peaceful. However, for me as a Japanese person a cemetery is somewhere spooky so I never be keen on visiting there. In old fashioned Japanese horror films ghosts always appear under willow trees near a cemetery. By thinking lots of bodies under the ground walking around there is also quite disterving to me. Anyway, that is why this became my first visit to this famous place. It was something new for me.
In order to reach the cemetery I went through Waterlow Park in Highgate.
The park has a wide grass area with some huge trees and some colour too.
There are several types of alcohol in Japan. Two most well-known ones are ‘Sake’ (Rice Wine) and ‘Shochu’ (Spirit made from materials such as rice, wheat or sweet potatoes). We also have some liquors and the most popular one is ‘Umeshu’ Plum Liquor. I like Umeshu. Although it is an alcoholic drink I have been familiar with it since I was a child. My mother used to make it at home with fresh ‘Ume’ plums. It is very refreshing having it on the rock, neat Umeshu with some ice cubes especially after having a bath in summer. You wait a little until the ice starts melting and dilutes the Umeshu a little then you drink it. Aaaaaah, so heavenly.
Recently I had a chance to attend an ‘Umeshu’ seminar. I loved to find out more about my favourite drink.
The seminar was held at Shoryu Ramen restaurant in Piccadilly Circus, London. It was hosted by Japan Centre and Choya, the biggest Umeshu company in Japan.
The lecturer was Mr. Suzuki from Choya who had just landed in London on the same day. It was great that he incorporated a quiz into the seminar. He explained some facts regarding the Umeshu and gave us questions.
It is mid-summer now. Even here in London we are having the hottest days so far this year. I know it is nothing compared to the heat and humidity of the summer in Japan or India, but still it is hot.
So what does Summer remind you of? For me it is the Radio Gymnastic Exercises and Morning Glory flowers. In Japan during school summer holiday many (probably not all) children get up early and gather in a nearby square or school ground. We tune in the radio to “NHK Radio Gymnastic Exercise” program which starts 6:30AM every day. After exercising each child receives a card and collect one stamp a day. On the way back home I remember I felt good and healthy after exercising in the fresh morning air and saw Morning Glory flowering beautifully at the front of many houses. The flowers are mostly in gradation between blue and pink which is my favourite colour.
Its Japanese name is ‘Asagao 朝顔’ meaning ‘Face in the Morning’. Morning Glory opens its huge round flower in early morning and closes in the afternoon. The people in the old days maybe thought the flowers reminded them of smiley faces of children, I wonder. It is certainly a face of beautiful flower in summer.
Now we are in July. However, I don’t see them in London. So … I made my nostalgic summer flowers as Japanese sweet.
Morning Glory / Asagao 朝顔
I like ‘Matcha‘ Green Tea. Actually since I was a child I really liked the taste. Although we had a set of Matcha making tools at home my mother did not make Matcha tea that often. Only when we had very good Japanese sweet ‘Wagashi‘ my mother brought out the set and made Matcha tea for us. Maybe that is why I thought having Matcha tea is something special. It was more like for ceremonial occasions and I still get excited about the whole process.
I think Matcha’s popularity these days is phenomenal. Western people knowing its Japanese name ‘Matcha’ was unthinkable to me until 5 years ago and it is unbelievable that there are several shops and cafés serving Matcha drink or food even here in London. Now we have been informed that there are great health benefits in Matcha and it is not just foodies but healthy food eaters are joining the Matcha drinking club.
I have been on a quest for searching a great way of using ‘Houjicha‘ Japanese Green Tea. When I saw a photo of Parfait dessert on a magazine I thought “This is it! It must be definitely tasty if I make this with Houjicha flavour”. I also wanted to add some colour and texture to it. As I posted earlier I have been harvesting Raspberries in my garden so I decided to use some into this dessert. With soft, melting but slightly crunchy texture, roasted Green Tea aroma and fresh sweet and sour soft fruit … I think it is perfect to combine Houjicha and Raspberries all together to make a Parfait.
Houjicha Latte Parfait with Raspberries
It is a great dessert for a dinner with friends. The best thing about this dish is that it is so simple to make. No fiddliness and no failure. I added some Raspberry and ready-made Meringue but you can use any other soft fruit or you don’t need to add anything at all. It is delicious as it is.
On the 7th of July we have another traditional event in Japan. It is called ‘Tanabata 七 夕’. It seems like Tanabata originally came from China a long time ago but it became one of the Japanese traditions started in about Nara period (AD 710 to 794).
The story behind the event is like this …
Yay, it is Raspberry time. It has been raining a lot almost every day here in London so I hardly water plants in my garden.
Whilst I was not even going out to my garden my Raspberries gradually started to appear. They were small and green at the beginning and became bigger …
It rains a lot here in London these days and it is ‘Tsuyu 梅雨’ the Rainy season in Japan now too. Japanese like associating things with each season and we have a special name ‘Kigo 季語’ for those words that describe seasons in songs and poems like ‘Haiku‘. For instance they can be from weather (Snow), astronomy (Full Moon), event (Rice planting, ‘Hanami‘ Cherry Blossom viewing) or food (Clam, Wasbi). Of course plants and flowers are very seasonal and they are also Kigo.
So what kind of thing can be Kigo for this ‘Tsuyu‘ Rainy Season? There are several things that reminds me of Rainy days and one of the things I am very certain that most Japanese people would associate with must be ‘Ajisai / Hydrangea’ and a Snail. The plant grows and glorifies the flower during the Rainy season and the colour of the flower (OK, I know it is actually calyx and not petal) intensifies in rain and deepens. Strangely there is always a snail or two on a leaf. Ajisai and a Snail are inseparable in Japan.
During Tsuyu season it rains day in, day out, but you cannot just live in a life dark and dull. You need to brighten up your feeling as Hydrangea is getting more and more beautiful in rainy days.
I tried creating several sweets in a theme of ‘Tsuyu’ for this month. ‘A leaf on a Puddle’ in my previous post was one of them and this ‘Ajisai/ Hydrangea’ was another.
The weather has been a little crazy in England. We had a short heat wave about three weeks ago and then it became very cold for a week. It suddenly became much hotter again and the temperature jumped up about 10 degree. Then again it became rainy for the last few days. It was thundering with heavy rain the other day but now at this moment …
‘Tsuyu (Rainy Season)’ is coming
The weather in Japan seems also a little strange this year. In some northern part it snowed right after the temperature was 30℃. However, it is June now and the one thing we are sure is that the ‘Tsuyu‘ is coming to Japan soon most definitely. ‘Tsuyu‘ is the Rainy season written as ‘梅雨‘ in Japanese. The first character ‘梅‘ means Plum and the second one ‘雨‘ is Rain. So why could ‘Plum-Rain’ mean Rainy Season?
There are several theories regarding the word. [Theory 1] It is because it’s the season Plum fruits ripen. [Theory 2] The word ‘Baiu (黴雨)’ came from China meaning as Rainy Season a long time ago. The first character ‘黴’ means ‘Mould’. Because in high humidity things gets mouldy easily so then it was actually ‘Mouldy Season’. However, people in Japan did not like the sound of Mouldy Season so changed the character ‘黴’ to ‘梅’ which has the same sound ‘Bai’. Now the Rainy Season is written as ‘梅雨’ and read either ‘Baiu’ or ‘Tsuyu’.
A Leaf on a Puddle
I wanted to make a Japanese sweet in the theme of Rainy Season. I tried several ideas and then a Puddle image popped into my mind.
This sweet is created from an image of a puddle with a leaf floating on its surface. Rain has been stopping for a while but some droplets have just started falling onto the puddle to make a swirl and some bubbles.