Thursday, July 24, 2008

Temari Suama

Day three: Temari suama / 手まりすあま

7-11, ¥60

“Handball sweets” may sound unappetizing, but for once the google translator has it right. Temari are traditional cloth balls wrapped in intricate webs of overlapping colored thread, which are imitated here by the alternating wedges of white and pink (I think the ghostly radiation symbol is unintentional). This "border crossing" tendency is one of the things I find so appealing about Japanese sweets, the idea that something delightful will only be more so if reproduced in sugar (like the bubblegum tacos of my youth, only classier).

Like so many Japanese sweets, suama start out as rice, and I’m not exactly sure what chain of events transforms them into balls of sticky, stretchy, translucent dough; this is an area I will definitely be investigating further. It’s a beautiful little sweet that I find clings unpleasantly to the roof of the mouth, but maybe that’s my fault for buying one at 7-11.

According to the internet chat, suama are a nostalgic and summery treat for many Japanese, but they inevitably make me think of plump woman dusting herself down with talcum after a hot bath (although perhaps this is what they mean by “nostalgic” and “summery”). The powder is a some kind of starch (probably katakuriko, from potatoes) liberally applied to keep the suama from adhering to everything within reach like a universal magnet.

Alice and Drew took off for the States today, and I went for a wander around the neighborhood. I headed up to our local temple complex, which was quite spooky in the dusk, with strings of unlit paper lanterns. At the top of the hill, I found farms, a huge high school, and standing sentinel over it all, the towering chimney of our local incinerator. One of the things I still find very hard to accept about Japan is that they prefer to burn most garbage rather than recycle materials of which they have no natural native sources. In our neighborhood, they are at least starting to separate out PET bottles and cans, but that doesn’t seem to be common. The miniature garbage trucks come around every single day, blaring odd minor-key calliope music so that I wake up thinking, “yeah, I could go for some ice cream…’.

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