Friday, July 25, 2008

Kurumi Yubeshi

Day Four: Kurumi yubeshi / くるみゆべし

Takashimaya food halls, ¥120

The basements of most Tokyo department stores are filled with food—sushi, bakeries, chocolates, booze, those infamous $100 melons—laid out as far as the eye can see. And tucked away in some corner of each depachika, you’ll generally find a motley but mouthwatering assortment of meibutsu, the famous products of various regions. These stalls are popular with big city transplants who still hanker for their hometown’s specialties, as well as with cheating spouses, who can back up their story about a “business trip” up north with a souvenir box of Hokkaido’s own cookies, when in fact they spent the weekend in a love hotel across town.

Many stores group meibutsu sweets together, and in one such display I found an old favorite from Sendai, a place I’ve never actually been. I hadn’t had kurumi yubeshi in so long I actually squealed when I found them. Although “rustic” is perhaps the best that can be said of its looks, yubeshi has all your other senses covered. So what if the outer layer of rice flakes looks like chapped skin? The flesh underneath is dense, chewy, buttery, velvety, tinged with aromatic molasses and textured with crackling chunks of lightly toasted walnuts. Despite my longstanding vegetarianism, I get what I assume is a quasi-carnivorous thrill from gnawing on a good yubeshi.

Yubeshi: It’s what’s for dessert.

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