Thursday, October 9, 2008


Day eighty: Zairyō
Matsumoto Shōten

Since I'm starting to dread my imminent return to the wagashi desert that is southern Oregon, I made a trek to Machida today to stock up on zairyō, or raw ingredients. I learned this term early on in my trip, when my friend Natsuki suggested that if I ever got stuck for things to say in a wagashi shop I could just point and ask "Zairyō wa...?" (in essence, "And the ingredients would be...?"); step two was to nod knowingly as the shop assistant reeled off an incomprehensible list in response.

Several dedicated cooks suggested that it would be worth my time to visit Matsumoto Shōten, a small store packed to the gills with staples not necessarily found in the neighborhood grocery--teas and spices from around the world, a dozen makes and models of sugar, and a mind-boggling array of starches capable of producing a full spectrum of textures.

Despite the size of the shop, Matsumoto's selection is almost encyclopedically thorough; take, for example, katakuriko, a starch made from the wild dogstooth violet, limited in supply and very expensive. The "katakuriko" sold in groceries these days is mostly potato starch, an acceptable substitute in most but not all applications. Matsumoto sells both hon ("true") katakuriko and so-called katakuriko, clearly labeled and at vastly different price points. Many of Matsumoto's products are likewise offered in a range of iterations--higher or lower quality, more or less adulterated, hand- or machine-made--with the full declension of some products taking up a yard or more of shelf space. At Matsumoto you can prioritize either your palette or your pocketbook and shop accordingly.

I bought medium-grade warabi (bracken fern starch for making gelatinous sweets), a few bars of good kanten (freeze-dried seaweed for making gelatinous sweets), a very small packet of pure kuzu (kudzu starch for making...gelatinous sweets), packets of yubeshi and dango mix (squish, squish), konnyaku powder (powdered mountain yam for making savory gelatinous dumplings, but I'll try to sweeten it instead), and boxes of ginger- and yuzu-flavored kuzu-yu mix (just had hot water for an aromatic, gelatinous drink). Altogether, about 4 kilos and $60 worth of assorted white powders.

Less than a week to figure out a good story for Customs...

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