Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Keiran Somen

Day seventy-eight: Keiran Somen

Like casutera and compeito, keiran somen arrived in Japan in the 16th century with Portuguese traders and therefore belongs to the category of nambagashi--literally, "barbarian sweets". The Portuguese prototype is called fios de ovos, or "angel hair", while the Japanese name translates more prosaically as "chicken egg noodles".

One of the most taxing aspects of my confectionery OCD is transcribing and translating the ingredients of each packaged sweet I buy, with some lists running to dozens of ingredients and some ingredients failing to make it into my babytalk dictionary. Keiran somen was a blessed break, composed of exactly two easy-to-translate ingredients: sugar and egg yolk. When you consider that at the time keiran somen were introduced, the Japanese diet included neither chicken eggs nor sugar, this sweet must have been an exotic treat of an almost alien order--like a Moon Pie made of lunar ingredients.

Since Japanese sweet omelettes are usually cooked paper thin (then rolled up like cigars), I initially assumed that keiran somen was simply a sheet of sweet omelette sliced into strands, but the edges seemed suspiciously rough so I dug around for more information. Turns out the process is something else entirely, more akin to state fair funnel cakes, only instead of boiling oil keiran somen makers use a vat of melted sugar; the whipped egg yolk is dribbled into the hot sugar, creating long golden strands. Some makers sell keiran somen twisted into tight ringlets and chopped into individual servings; the package I bought was a big blond tangle on a plastic tray.

I think just opening the bag kicked my LDL score up a few points. The somen was both sticky and unctuous, the texture of each bite as delicate and rubbery as a well-used Nerf ball, the flavor eggy and sweet (of course) but far more intense than expected.

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