Sunday, August 24, 2008

Aki no Ne

Day thirty-four: Aki no Ne
Baisao, Sendai-shi, ¥350

The 60-year-old Baisao sweetshop looks almost like a tear in the space-time continuum, a charming old-fashioned wooden building wedged between an unpaved parking lot and a glum modern apartment block on the north side of urban Sendai. A discreet path leads customers off the main street, past a pocket garden, and in through a discreet side door. Immediately inside, a large glass case displays an ever-changing range of "dry" and fresh sweets; any with overturned markers have sold out for the day.

Given the decidedly autumnal weather, I chose a fresh sweet called "Aki no Ne", or "The Sound of Autumn". The exterior is made of kanten, an algae-based gelatin, mixed with domyoji, cooked particles of crushed rice (think "bulgur rice"). More usually used in summer sweets, the kanten was here used to great effect, producing a sweet that is both materially and aesthetically attuned to the transition between summer and autumn. The liquid mixture is poured into glazed ceramic molds which can take almost any form, but the shape used here evokes raindrops rippling the surface of a puddle. Make that a muddy and mysterious puddle; a core of marvellously smooth white bean paste gives depth to the tinted kanten, and a single azuki bean lurks just beneath the surface.

I opted to eat my sweet on the spot in Baisao's peaceful tearoom, nursing a complimentary cup of tea (whipped matcha runs ¥370 extra) and listening to the rain drumming down outside.

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