Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kuzu Mochi

Day nine: Kuzu Mochi / 葛餅

Wa-on at Ikebukuro Tobu, ¥189

Some of my most vivid mental images from growing up in the South are of abandoned rural hollows where kudzu covers every tree, light pole, building, or busted car like a glossy green blanket. Seeming to grow as you watched it, kudzu was both creeping and creepy, and I heard more than one story about it smothering some poor, passed-out drunk.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that processed kudzu is both delicious and useful as a thickening agent similar to kanten and konnyaku. Kudzu-based sweets are a staple of the Japanese summer. Kuzu mochi is a kudzu version of the more common rice-based paste. It is flavored or filled with various ingredients, including summer fruits; this grape version seems to have come from Kanazawa. I’ve more often seen it wrapped in a cherry leaf, but the bamboo leaf used here is both a better match and an elegant symbol of freshness (that strip of fake grass in take-out sushi used to be a piece of fresh bamboo leaf, a visual indicator of whether the sushi was past its prime).

I ate it chilled and it was completely gorgeous—fairly soft, completely smooth, not so much chewy as slippery. Can something man-made be described as ripe? The big fat grape lurking in the center was as soft and gooey as those in a tin of fruit salad, but tasted of grape rather than corn syrup.

Shop of the day: “General Therapy”, which advertises a full range, including aromatherapy and psychotherapy.

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