Friday, August 29, 2008

Sake Manju

Day thirty-nine: Sake Manju
Owari Seto, ¥105

From its clay-seamed soils to retaining walls built of retired kiln shelves to the faux-bronze pottery bell hanging in a local temple, the town of Owari Seto is totally ceramic-centric and the perfect home base for my friend, ceramicist Shozo Michikawa.

Following a memorable lunch at a restaurant that looked and felt like somebody's living room, Shozo and his wife treated me to sake manju for dessert. Although there are many variations, manju are typically steamed or baked stuffed buns of leavened flour dough; they may be sweet or savory, hot or cold.

In this case, the pale and puffy buns were stuffed with bean paste and delicately flavored with sake. They came from a local specialist bakery; t
he shop premises are 90 years old, but the business dates back to the late Edo period and is currently run by the 6th generation proprietor. Thanks to reed screens over the windows the interior was cool and dim, lined with old display cases of worn wood and smoked bamboo, filled with prime examples of local pottery and seemingly lit from within by panels of old gold leaf. This being Owari Seto, even the manju case became a ceramics showcase; the stack of sweets shown below rest on a local dish decorated with a classic uma no me ("horse-eye") design.

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