For us Japanese Spring time is all about ‘Sakura’ Cherry Blossom. You might think all the Cherry blossoms are the same, however, there are many different types. The species with single petal flower start blossoming first and then other types with multi petals follow to open flowers. So that, although the best viewing time is quite short for each tree, we can enjoy viewing Sakura Cherry blossom for quite a long time betwee mid – late March and throughout April in Japan.
These days it is getting quite well known that Japanese have a picnic party eating and drinking under a full blooming Cherry tree. It is called ‘O’Hanami’. It literally means ‘the viewing of Sakura blossoms’ and it tells how much we love seeing Sakura. I tried to think a perfect Japanese sweets for this O’Hanami occasion which is something delicious in the Cherry blossom theme and also easy to pick and eat outdoors.
The sweet I created for the O’Hamani occasion is ‘Ukishima’. It looks quite like a western cake but is actually a very Japanese sweet with a soft, light texture. When I tasted this sweet the first time, I fell in love with it! The best thing about it is it’s so moist.
There were so many things I had experienced this year that I did not have a chance to post on my Blog. This post is one of them and I wanted to introduce it to you before this year ends.
In October one of my friends came to London to see me from Paris and I did not miss the chance to take her for an Afternoon Tea. The last time I had High Tea was spring time this year. I posted the experience on my Blog and received a recomendation of another restaurant which serves good Afternoon Tea from one of the readers. So I booked a table there and went to have another experience with my friend.
Another Afternoon Tea in London
It is a Viennese Restaurant located in Aldwych of London. It has a quite rich atmosphere with very decorative walls and a European style setting. I had dined in this restaurant before but never been there for Tea time. We were taken to our table promptly and not long after ordering a pot of Earl Grey Tea the traditional three layered cake stand served at our table.
Last year I made a debut to a very British customs ‘Afternoon Tea’. The concept of it is similar to Cream Tea that I occasionally have, however, they are a little different. Basically Afternoon Tea is a mixture of lunch and tea time together which serves tea with some sandwiches and dessert. By knowing it is a traditional custom for upper class people, it is a little intimidating experience but it is becoming more popular among wider range of people these days.
I had another opportunity to try this high end custom (at a reasonable price) the other day. It was a farewell occasion with somebody who helped me out and is leaving the UK soon.
To be honest it is quite difficult to choose the venue. Of course if you want to spend lots of money for the best experience there is no problem. The top quality afternoon tea costs over £100 per head. However, if you want to find a venue for a great experience but reasonably priced, you have to do a lot of research.
I finally booked a table in a hotel, but I was worried if it was not as good as I hoped it would be. However, once we arrived at the hotel I got a good feeling. Although the restaurant is located on the ground floor, we were led to the Executive Lounge which is on their 14th floor. There were some other people having tea already but tables were placed with some distance so our conversation was not disturbed at all.
We settled at the table and not waiting that long, our tea arrived, followed by a three tiered cake stand.
I have been living in England for many years. During that time I have picked up several English customs such as having toast with Orange Marmalade and a MUG of Milk Tea for breakfast or Tea-time at 4:30 often with Earl Grey Tea. I also love Scones but it has to be with Clotted Cream and Raspberry Jam. However, I have never experienced having a set of Afternoon Tea in a Tea shop … until recently.
Last week I saw a friend of mine in Central London. We decided go to Patisserie Valerie for Afternoon Tea.
Jugoya, Full Moon
It is becoming the middle of Autumn ‘Chushu (中秋)’. Actually it is this Thursday, the 15th of September this year and that is the day we can see the Full Moon. The night of the day is called ‘Jugoya / 十五夜’ (‘Jugo‘ means fifteen and ‘Ya (Yoru)’ means night). Basically it is the Fifteenth Moon from the New Moon, hence the Full Moon.
In Japan we have a custom of ‘Tsukimi (月見)’ (viewing the Full Moon) on this day. It came from China during Nara / Heian period (8-11 C) into the life of upper class people. They had a party viewing the Full Moon and read poems about it. Later on in Edo period (17-19C) it was taken to common people as well and the day was combined with the festival for farmers to hope for a good harvest.
Nowadays, it is still the same. We enjoy viewing the Full Moon. We look forward to the clear sky with the beautiful Moon. On the day we prepare for the night by placing ‘Susuki (Japanese Silver Grass)’ and of course some sweets. What kind of sweet the family have depends on which region where they live but mostly they are ‘Mochi‘ type.
Chocolate Full Moon Yokan and Rabbits
So I made these Japanese sweets for Jugoya Night, one is the Full Moon Yokan in Chocolate flavour and the other one is Moon Rabbit.
What is your favourite fruit in summer-time? Mine is definitely Watermelon. In Japan when you see big watermelons displayed in a shop I feel ‘summer is here!’. We used to have some farmers selling ripe watermelons on the side of the street. When I was about 13 on one Sunday evening my family came back from a day out and saw a farmer was about packing up his stall. He had one big watermelon which had a crack and told us “Can you buy this watermelon, please. It’s got a crack but it is very sweet. I’ll make it just 100 yen for you”. 100 yen is about 50 pence in present time. Of course we bought the watermelon and went home. When we put the tip of a knife into the watermelon it just cracked up into two by itself because it was so ripe. The flesh was so red and juicy. It was the best watermelon I have tasted in my entire life. All of my family still talk about it when we eat watermelon. It was such a memorable taste.
Watermelon (スイカ), Wagashi
As the Sweet in summer time I had to make ‘Watermelon’ as a Japanese sweet. It is almost like an homage to my summer-time childhood.
How does it look?
It is made of Sweet White Bean Paste with Rice Flour & Black Sesame Seeds.
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 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
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 …
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.