Thursday, August 7, 2008

Higashi

















Day seventeen: Higashi / 干菓子

Mu-an at Happōen, ¥860 for tea and sweets


Happōen garden is a little oasis in urban Meguro. The garden’s name means “beautiful from any angle”, but it is perhaps loveliest seen from the low-lying koi pond at its center. With tree-covered hills rising steeply around the pond and skyscrapers looming behind the trees, sitting in the pavilion at the water’s edge feels like sitting at the bottom of a green bowl with a concrete rim.


As views go, looking out at the garden over a cup of whipped matcha in the Mu-an teahouse is a close second. Decorated with stripped and rough-hewn woods and soft green and ochre paint, the tearoom seems like a natural extension of the world seen through the wide picture windows.


Alongside the matcha, a kimono-clad hostess serves a small tray of seasonal sweets. On this occasion, my friend Yoshimi and I enjoyed higashi, “dry” sweets of sugar and flour that are pressed into a carved wooden mold. Although higashi have a relatively long shelf life and are suitable year round, the pink morning glory and the green pods of edamame beans are specific to the summer season.


Special wasambon sugar gives higashi their delicate flavor and soft texture. Farmers in Tokushima prefecture harvest a low-yield Chinese sugar cane, then subject it to a laborious process that includes hand washing the sugar four times in order to remove the molasses. Wasambon production has been designated as one of Japan’s “Important Cultural Properties.”

1 comment:

alligator said...

Those candies are lovely! Eat an extra one for me, k?