Sunday, August 31, 2008

Zunda Mochi

Day forty-one: Zunda Mochi

I learned a new Japanese saying recently: Miyagemono ni umai mono nashi, or "Among souvenirs, there are no delicious things". I found this a little hard to get my head around; given the Japanese emphasis on giving souvenirs, packaged delicacies wallpaper every train station and airport; historically, local food souvenirs have been seen as giving the folks at home a way of participating in the journey; and surely, food gifts, no matter how undelicious, gather less dust than a snow globe?

But today gave me a little more insight. I spent most of it backtracking to Tokyo in order to take my ailing computer to the Mac store. Several hours into my train journey (I'm still stuck on local trains) I realized that I had somehow managed not to pack the fresh, delicious and expertly-made sweets that my friends at the Tokinoka Yawargi shop had set aside for me; it was like waking from a dream where you're lolling on a pile of treasure to find yourself in a single bed on IKEA sheets.

Rooting around in my bag, I managed to find a box of souvenir sweets that had been with me since Sendai. On the north end of Japan's main island, Honshu, they make something of a speciality of zunda, young, fresh soybeans that are boiled, sweetened, and ground into mealy paste. Zunda shows up in a number of incarnations, but here it is slathered over tiny balls of mochi.

There's no denying that the package was attractive, sturdy, and a welcome respite from a sweets-free day on the trains. The zunda was bright green on a scale somewhere between hi-lighter and fava, smelled of fresh chlorophyll, and tasted inoffensively sweet. But while the color shouted "freshness", the stiff, gluey texture of both the paste and the mochi whispered "extended shelf-life".

Perhaps the trick to getting delicious souvenirs is not buying foods that are packaged specifically as souvenirs?

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