Saturday, August 2, 2008


Day twelve: Amakusajukushi / 天草熟子

Sentairō (?) / 仙太郎 at Ikebukuro Tobu, ¥230   

Although there are many different terms for different categories of Japanese sweets (and I will go into this at nerdish length sometime soon), the root term that most share is an archaic word for “fruit”. Since most native Japanese fruits were either bland or sour, they had to be processed in some way to make them a palatable treat. When sweetened Chinese confections were first introduced during the Nara period (710-794), they were dubbed “Chinese fruit” and fitted into the same culinary categories previously occupied by dried and stewed fruits.

It is therefore quite fitting that summer sweets feature a number of “improved” fruits, such as Amakusajukushi. The top of a large orange is sliced off, its insides are scooped out and replaced with sweet, orange-flavored kanten (an alternate reading for the characters “amakusa” is tengusa, the name of the sea algae used to make kanten) and the top is replaced like a little lid. It is sold as either the whole fruit, or as slightly less imposing (and expensive) wedges.

While eating this refreshing jelly I realized one more thing that’s odd about kanten. When you bite or cut into gelatin, it basically splits at the point where teeth or spoon are applied. Kanten actually breaks, like very soft glass, as if in accord with its own internal stresses.

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