Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Broccoli no toufu ae: Tofu and sesame dressed broccoli

Broccoli isn't particularly common in the Japanese kitchen, but it's gradually become somewhat popular in home cooking. To be honest, I can't think of many times I've actually eaten it when I've traveled to Japan, but I've certainly seen it at supermarkets and department stores.

The few broccoli dishes I've seen in American Japanese restaurants seem oddly unbalanced, overcooked, and out-of-place.

However, the ingredient can be very suitable for aemono or ohitashi. I might even be swayed to blanch it, mince it finely and use it in tamago-yaki.

Broccoli no toufu ae

washoku 422

This side dish, slightly strongly seasoned even for aemono, is made with a blend of soft tofu, toasted, crushed white sesame seeds, sugar, salt, and the tiniest splash of soy sauce.

The broccoli, blanched for about 90 seconds, yields, but still has bite. Once mixed with the ae components, it acquires a savory, juicy character. The flavors play very nicely together.

For a little color and slightly capricious flavor highlight, I also added a little sprinkling of yuzu-shichimi once the aemono was on the plate. Because I used only a tiny touch of this, each bite holds the potential of a little surprise, but the heat from the shichimi doesn't overwhelm the dish.

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Eggs and cactus: Saboten no tamago toji

Another home-style dish with a Japanese approach to non-Japanese ingredients, this nopal dish, made with a couple of eggs, dashi, soy sauce and mirin, is really basic, but it's a great little side dish for two or three people.

Saboten no tamago toji

Saboten to tamago touji

The eggs are set firmly enough that this probably doesn't seem much different than scrambled eggs, tamago toji tends to be a little bit more on the liquidy side, but I think mine is soft enough to qualify. Sometimes tamago toji refers to eggs poured into soup, over udon or similar noodles.

This is made with blanched and then briefly sauteed prickly pear cactus paddles. Shaped like a leaf, nopales have sharp, thorn-like spines need to be assiduously pared away with a knife before they are suitable for consumption.

Once I've prepared the nopales, I briefly blanch them in salted water to brings out the slightly tart flavor and okra-like texture of the nopales.

The nopales need only a short cooking time, but they're slightly time-consuming to trim. Even with the extra prep work, I think this would become popular in Japan if the vegetable were more widely available. The flavor and texture are quite compatible with Japanese cuisine, which is full of nebaneba (mucilaginous) foods.

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Kurikinton

I was mostly in rush-everywhere-mode today, going from customer to customer and errand to errand. I got a fair amount done but I’m still behind on a couple of things.

Actually, until tonight, I didn’t even get around to sending out shipping notifications for the large number of internet orders I sent out on Monday and Tuesday.

I never ate a proper dinner. I just nibbled on good bread from Le Fournil and dug in to some Brie. If I had been doing this on a park bench or at the dinner table, that would have been perfectly respectable, but actually I was mostly eating it while underway this evening, between tasks.

I got a bit hungry late tonight but I remembered I have some kuri-kinton, or sweet potato puree with chestnuts, that I made a few days ago.

Kuri-kinton is one of the humblest of Japanese confections. You won’t find a lot of middle-aged Japanese mothers who make the kinds of sweets that appear at fancy wagashi-ya-san, even if it’s as simple to replicate as dorayaki. Daifuku (usually ambiguously referred to as “mochi” in the U.S.) are rarely made at home except for special events. But a fair number of people are willing to attempt kuri-kinton.

I have attempted to make daifuku at a nursery school in Japan that a friend’s family managed. This was about 7 years ago, and my Japanese was even worse at that time. The teacher gently scolded me for making them inadeqately elegantly; the 4 year olds had more experience and seemed to understand the instructions on kneading the dough better than I did, and they managed to massage out any hint of seams in the bottom.

Homemade Kuri-Kinton

Kurikinton

Kuri-kinton, however, requires no such attention to detail. Boil some Japanese-style sweet potatoes, peeled and in pieces, until fork tender. Drain. Add a fair amount of sugar to taste, and optionally, a splash of mirin; I recommend adding a pinch of salt to add some richness. Smash with a fork or potato masher while still quite hot (about 160F sounds good to me).

When you have a nice, smooth paste, you will then incorporate some chestnuts. For convenience, canned or jarred chestnuts preserved in syrup work well; the syrup should be drained, and may used in something else if you so desire. Otherwise, you’re welcome to attempt to make them from scratch by boiling in your own syrup; this requires very careful peeling, and even with my nifty Japanese chestnut peeler I rarely quite get that right. I’ll save the chestnut peeling for roasted chestnuts or things that require a less sweet starting point.

You can serve the kuri-kinton warm, but it’s more typically served at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Kurikinton requires no artfulness in presentation and can simply be spooned onto a plate. If you feel so inclined, however, you may shape the kurikinton into little balls or other shapes. I chose to highlight one chestnut in the center.

 Serve with some good Japanese tea.

Godoufu with irigoma sauce and shouga no nerimiso

Godoufu with irigoma sauce and ginger-miso sauce

Godoufu, the soymilk-based mochi-like "tofu" from Saga prefecture, has been featured here before, shortly after I reminisced about my first time tasting it when I was ceramics-hunting in Arita many years ago.

This weekend I got the urge to make it again. It's a bit time-consuming to prepare, so I don't really make it all that often, but I made it twice this weekend. Yesterday I went to a potluck, where my quadruple batch was consumed or otherwise claimed by others. I decided I wanted a bit more for myself today, and I really had more than enough soy milk this time... I made a huge batch of soymilk on Saturday morning.

The basics are simple, but a bit time-consuming. Start with a truly rich unsweetened soymilk. Milk substitute monstrosities such as the popular Silk brand are completely unsuitable, and even most unsweetened soy milks sold at health food stores will not have enough protein or flavor. If you have a local Asian soymilk producer, they probably sell the thicker type of soymilk that will be suitable for the task. Otherwise, you can certainly make your own... That's what I did this weekend, and it's why I ended up with about 9 liters of thick soymilk and a frightening amount of okara.

Godoufu

  • 5 cups thick Asian-style unsweetened soymilk (roughly 1200 ml)
  • 2 tablespoons kuzu-ko or arrowroot starch (about 55 grams)
  • 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon katakuriko, similar to potato starch, about 120 grams

Kuzu-ko tends to be clumpy, so it's best to use a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or even the back of a spoon to crush the kuzuko into a fine powder. For best results, whisk the cold soymilk with the starches until the solids are completely dissolved; otherwise, small translucent balls similar to gravy lumps tend to form during cooking.

Bring the solution to a boil, then immediately take off the heat and start stirring furiously with a sturdy spoon. Reduce heat to medium-low, and keep stirring like mad, making sure nothing sticks to the pan. Keep this up for about 30 minutes.

In many pans it's a bit tricky to keep things from sticking and browning at the bottom, but regularly pulling the pan off heat can help regulate the bottom of the temperature. In a pinch, if the bottom of the pan starts to brown, I've been known to pour out the mixture into another pan and continue the process; it's really hard to rescue the godoufu if things start sticking, so I do my best to prevent disaster.

Turn out the mixture into an airtight storage container. Some Japanese sites recommend placing a layer of clingfilm wrap on the surface of the godoufu to prevent a skin from forming.

Next, if at all possible, put the sealed container in an ice water bath for about 5 minutes. Refrigerate a few hours until set. (In a pinch, you can eat after about an hour, but it will hold its shape better if it's refrigerated longer).

In my experience, godoufu keeps reasonably well for about a week, but it must be kept in an absolutely airtight container.

 

Two typical sauces often used to top the godoufu include:

Irigoma sauce (Black sesame sauce)

  • 3 tbsp. ground black sesame seeds
  • 1.5 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tbsp. soy sauce

Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer for a minute or so. Allow to cool.

Shouga no nerimiso (Ginger miso sauce)

  • 2 tbsp. miso (akamiso or shiromiso)
  • 2 tbsp. mirin
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

On medium heat, bring ingredients to a simmer, stirring regularly. Cook for about 5 minutes after the mixture comes to a boil, until it thickens.

This one is nice with a little finely chopped scallion.

 

Last night I also tried the godoufu with kinako and kuromitsu, which was very similar to a sweet called "tounyuu no warabi-mochi" the Hiromi and I ate in Kyoto a couple years ago. It should also be nice in zenzai (sweet red bean soup) in place of shiratama or mochi.

Matcha Cuisine

I don’t customarily plan an entire three course meal around a single ingredient, except to celebrate some seasonal excess, like fantastic tomatoes or the fall mushroom season.

However, over the last month or two, I started to want to push the boundaries of my usual matcha adventures

I’ve become comfortable letting matcha play a role in sweets, cocktails, and so on, and I have done a matcha flavored cream sauce before, but I never really let it play a starring role in a planned meal. I wanted to test the capacity of matcha to play different roles. In addition to its obvious applications in desserts and sweets, it also has herbal and spice-like qualities I wanted to explore. I thought maybe I would revisit my matcha cream sauce again, but this time make some homemade gnocchi instead of throwing together a quick lunch with some dry pasta from my pantry. In this case, I could let the matcha serve the role of an herb. I also wanted to use it as a seasoning, so I thought maybe a simple tempura would be nice. And I couldn’t really envision a three course meal highlighting matcha without it serving a role as a dessert flavoring, so I decided to go way back in my repertoire to produce a green tea cheesecake. I had made a matcha mousse in Germany in 1996 or so, but I think it wan’t until 1998 or so when I decided to make a cheesecake with it.

When I first attended FoodEx and Hoteres Japan back in 2004, I was intrigued by the idea of a matcha-jio, or matcha seasoned salt. The primary suggested application was as a seasoning for tempura, but I have also seen it used to season oborodoufu (custard tofu) served in small portions. I don’t really make tempura all that often, but I thought that tempura could be analogous to a “fritto misto”, and since tempura was itself a fusion of Japanese and Portuguese cooking, it seemed fitting as a gateway between the European and Japanese elements of the meal I envisioned.

Even though I’m at Uwajimaya at least weekly, I don’t really know where to find matcha salt in Seattle. I do, however, have a small mortar and pestle, and a fairly substantial supply of matcha for cooking, since I’ve been functioning as a sales broker for Three Tree Tea. So I ground some salt up to a fine snowflake-like powder, and combined it with a fairly substantial proportion of matcha for cooking (grade A).

Matcha-jioRenkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-jio

I spotted some freshly harvested local green beans (ingen), and some well packed Chinese lotus root (renkon). For color contrast I thought a few slices of carrot would be nice. I decided to make tempura the “old fashioned” way, which is not with a batter, but by bathing the vegetables in very cold water with a beaten egg, and dipping into flour. This allows for a very thin coating that allows the colors to come through. I did sprinkle everything a tiny amount of salt after frying before plating.

A few weeks ago at La Medusa, Hiromi and I had a nice “sappari” sauced pasta made with a fava bean cream, served with salt-marinated fava beans. I thought it was a good model for what I had in mind for my gnocchi.

For the pasta, I wanted the matcha to function much like rosemary or thyme or any other herb would work in a sauce. My goal was to make it recognizable if you were familiar with it, just strong enough that you would miss it if it weren’t there. So I chose to use a very small amount of cutting-board minced garlic (roughly half a clove), 2 tbsp. butter, 2–3 tbsp. cream (unmeasured), and a bit of parmesan. I prepared matcha by whisking about 3/4 tsp. of the powder in about 1/4 cup of my pasta water. I had some salt-water boiled edamame, which I had dropped in an ice bath after cooking. After boiling the gnocchi, which were a simple potato-based gnocchi with no special seasoning, I combined them with the edamame and the sauce and kept cooking a couple more minutes in the cream sauce (adjusting salt as needed). As a tea, matcha can become bitter or astringent when cooked for a long time, so I combined it into the sauce just before adding the gnocchi.

Matcha cream gnocchi

Gnocchi seem an ideal gateway between Japanese and Italian cuisine. The mild sweetness of the potatoes in gnocchi and the sweet-savory nature of “dango” or Japanese dumplings seemed to make the medium even more fitting. In fact, the first time I made a matcha cream sauce a few weeks ago, I used a tiny amount of sugar (1/4–1/2 tsp) just to make the sauce smoother. This time I skipped that. If someone served me a matcha cream pasta at a restaurant, I would be happy with either choice. The sauce was simple, clean-tasting, and slightly herby without any noticeable astringency.

In the morning I baked a moderately-sweetened green tea cheesecake. I am not a fan of the increasingly ubiquitous super-sweet cheesecakes. Matcha does need a bit of sugar for balance in sweets, so I did use a tiny bit more than if I were just doing a simple lemon zest cheesecake that might be topped with some fruit.

The base of the matcha cheesecake was essentially 8 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese, 2 tbsp. sour cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 2 level tsp. matcha whipped with the softened cream cheese and sugar, a few drops pure vanilla extract, and one egg. I made a simple graham cracker crust. I used two very small (maybe 4”) springform pans. After the cheesecake came out of the oven, I made a sour cream and sugar topping which had additional matcha blended in. I served about 1/2 of the small cheesecake per person, which was more than really necessary but not overwhelming. Just before serving, I dusted a bit more matcha on top and on the plate.

Matcha cheesecake

The final product: Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).

Gnocchi with edamame in a matcha cream sauce; Renkon to ingen to ninjin no tempura with Matcha-shio, and matcha cheesecake with anko (red bean paste).

Dinner is served!

This month's Is My Blog Burning theme is tea as an ingredient, hosted by A La Cuisine, so please take a look at what other folks have imagined. By Japanese standards, my dishes are probably slightly conventional but still somehow very much my own, so I'm sure you'll find some more radical uses of tea over there.

Asamushi Onsen, Asupamu, Apple Pie

May 2nd, at Asamushi Onsen, on the way to Hirosaki. We wake up early and have another bath, then breakfast, and we head off. But first we looked out the window, and decided to make a quick trip to the beach...

Our ryokan wasn't quite on the waterfront, but it's just a short hop across a busy road to the beach...

Yu no Kabuto Iwa

Yu no Kabuto Iwa

A big rock, a little island, just across the bay.

Lone tree

Lone tree, Yu no Kabuto Iwa

A view of the left side of the island reveals a dramatic-looking pine.

Torii

Torii, Yu no kabuto iwa

There's a gate and a long stairway to a temple starting at the waterfront.

Asupamu

Asupamu, Aomori city, Aomori, Japan

We made our way toward Aomori city, and discovered this odd looking building called Asupamu, to which Hiromi made a beeline in our rental car. It turns out that it did its job very well: the ground floor is full of gift shops peddling various Aomori specialties, and an impressive observation deck about 13 floors up. (We didn't feel any need to spend 600 yen each for that, even after buying so much stuff that we were good for up to two hours of free parking).

We gave in and bought a lot of them, some of them destined to be our gomen nasai present for coworkers when we return to the office, and some treats for friends, family, teammates, and fellow Meetup members. Oh, and some "gifts" for purely self-indulgent purposes. We need those. Self-indulgence is good.

Apple Pie

Apple Pie from Asupamu

After sampling the delights of the many Asupamu gift shops, we had pie from an Asupamu apple shop. We like pie. This one has some cream cheese in it. Aomori is famous for apples, so that makes this local food.

Chausson

I chose this chausson (lady slipper?) for myself, but Hiromi thought it was boring compared to two of the other nifty options and I could sense her disappointment. Until she proceeded to eat at least half of mine. (I got my fair share of the cream cheese one though...  I'm just making fun of her for visibly, if quietly, doubting my judgment).

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Of course, no coastal tourist shop would be complete without some sort of rotating squidmobile.

 

Ganmodoki, warabi, and houtou

Last week Hiromi and I decided to take advantage of one of the packaged foods we picked up at Takaragawa-onsen called houtou, which are fantastically wide noodles typically served with fall or winter vegetables.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to completely ignore the fact that we’re already seeing the bounty of springtime. I picked up some fiddlehead fern fronds, and thought a simple warabi no nimono, simmered fiddleheads in seasoned soup stock, would be nice.

And then I thought I’d like to have a little protein in the dish, and my mind turned to a favorite oden classic, which is ganmodoki, a sort of tofu fritter. I started looking at packaged ganmodoki, and wasn’t inspired at all. I realized it wasn’t that hard to make ganmodoki, and so I decided to make it at home.

Homemade Ganmodoki

Ganmodoki version 1

Ganmodoki often has some hijiki in it, but I discovered I was completely out. Instead, I used some shredded gobo or burdock root, along with the typical shredded carrots. Hiromi told me that she’s partial to ganmodoki made with sesame, so I also used some kurogoma (black sesame) and the slightest hint of sesame oil. The fried ganmodoki went into the seasoned soup stock, perhaps not quite long enough to get the incomparably oden-like quality of pervasive soupy richness, but just about right to bring out the freshness of the tofu.

Houtou

Houtou

Houtou is seriously rustic. You are probably less likely to find this nabe dish in a U.S. Japanese restaurant than you are to find a fortune cookie in China, which means the odds are almost infinitely improbable.

Our favorite nabe is sadly leaking a bit, but houtou would normally be prepared on top of a portable konro at the table. We had to improvise, and prepared it in a pot on the stove and transferred it into my largest Hagi earthenware bowl.

Houtou aren’t really substantially different than udon, except that they are cut thinner and substantially wider. The soup usually has root vegetables such as carrots and satoimo (small taro), along with Japanese kabocha squash.We also used strips of abura-age, loosely translatable as tofu puffs. They have a slightly spongy texture that just loves to absorb tasty liquids like broth. The seasoning base of our broth is miso, along with, of course, some dashijiru. Although the gift package Hiromi found at our ryokan’s convenient omiyage-ya-san includes some miso-based seasoning, she wanted some more miso intensity, and we used a blend of hatcho-miso and a lighter miso.

The result is rib-sticking comfort food. It’s the kind of food someone’s grandmother would make: not terribly fancy, but somehow incredibly satisfying. We look forward to devouring the other half of our stash of houtou sometime soon…

Yakitori-ya for a vegetarian

On the Sunday before Golden Week, Hiromi had a practice session to attend, so we needed to have a late dinner. Ochanomizu completely clears out during Golden Week, as it's mostly populated by university students, so nearly every place we walked by had just closed for the evening. Most of the shops closed around 8:30 or so, even if their signs indicated that they were customarily open much later.

An incredibly intoxicated woman just outside of one restaurant loudly offered a bottle of something that was allegedly jasmine tea to everyone within earshot, and some of her friends humored her, tasted something that was likely higher proof than the average bottled tea, and spit it out onto the street. We discovered that the restaurant around which they were congregating was still open.

The restaurant promised we could still eat if we coult get all our orders in within about 30 minutes... We were up for the challenge. The one caveat is that the shop specializes in yakitori, grilled chicken (and assorted parts) on skewers.

View of the kitchen

View of the Kitchen, Ochanomizu yakitori shop

Fortunately, many yakitori shops have a number of vegetable options, and we happened to stumble into one with a surprisingly long menu.

Sobacha-Ryokucha to Shochu Cocktail

Soba-cha to ryokucha with shochu

We started with these allegedly seasonal drinks made with ryokucha (green tea). Mine had soba-cha and shochu in it... thanks to the toasted buckwheat, it resembled a slighlty alcoholic genmaicha with a pronounced buckwheat aroma.

Stick harumaki

Stick harumaki

Our first thing to nibble on... some sort of cheese-filled stick harumaki... My memory of the other ingredients has faded, but it was pleasingly crunchy and creamy.

Spring greens salad

Spring greens salad

Some bitter greens with a kind of grapefruit dressing, topped with little webs of dried fish and a garnish of katsuobushi. Another example of the sense of humor required to be vegetarian in Japan, perhaps, but the greens and dressing were nice.

Soramame no sumibiyaki

Soramame no sumibiyaki (grilled fava beans)

Ume salt

Ume-jio (ume salt)

I always delight in unexpected greatness in simplicity... These were one of our favorite treats of the night. Oak charcoal grilled soramame (fava beans) served with coarse ume (Japanese apricot)-flavored salt. The easiest way to eat this is to out the fava beans one by one and eat with a grain or two of the salt.

Shouyu-butter tofu with moyashi

Another pleasant surprise... This tofu was served on a small sizzle platter with a sauce made from little more than butter and soy sauce, and tasted surprisingly indulgent. It's topped with negi (scallions), and like so many other pub side dish in Japan, is dressed with some katsuobushi.

Kushi-yaki

Kushi-yaki: takenoko and tsukune shiitake

Tsukune-stuffed shiitake for Hiromi in the background, served with a heavy dose of yuzu-kosho, and grilled bamboo shoots with slightly sweetened miso. It's really hard to get nice bamboo shoots in the US, especially this fresh. I don't know why that is, exactly. But these were very nice, very appropriate for spring, and they were completely free of the unpleasantly preserved taste that most bamboo shoots in the US have.

 

 

Department store dinner, hand transported from Shibuya to Kawasaki

Department store basement meal

On a wet and rainy April 28, Hiromi, Hiromi's mother and I trekked to Meiji Jinguu, then briefly toured Shibuya's Tokkyu Foods Show depachika madness. We were planning to have dinner at Hiromi's home that night, so we actually wanted to pick up a few things to take home.

The nifty thing about department store basements in Japan is that you can assemble a fairly elaborate meal without ever needing to whip out a spatula or your handy kitchen saibashi.

Not one of the dishes required more than a bit of reheating, although for one of the two grilled eggplant dishes (far left, middle) I chose to make a quick nerimiso to help the two variations stand apart from each other. Even in that case, however, the department store had a ready-to-buy sauce you could take away to remove even this tiny step of production.

I also made a quick seasoned soup stock for the big ganmodoki (upper left), but everything else was just a matter of heating, at most, and plating.

Among the other dishes: Fresh yuba with soy sauce, an okra ohitashi with yuba, two kinds of vegetable croquettes, supermarket sushi, blanched kogomi (a spring mountain vegetable similar to warabi), a vegetable aemono, dashi-maki tamago (a broth-seasoned omelet), takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice), and four kinds of inari-zushi. One variety had a wasabi-seasoned rice, another was gomoku, another might have been made with azuki, and the last one had age puffs made from black soybeans.

It wasn't all easy, though... A fair amount of time unwrapping, plating and transporting foods from the kitchen to the table made preparation take almost as long as making a simpler dinner might have taken. Of course, the quality was much better than the average takeaway meal at a US supermarket, and everything was nicer than most of what you might find at even upscale urban specialty shops.

Toraya Cafe: Wagashi reimagined.

After our big lunch, we found ourselves at Toraya Cafe, another fancy Omotesando Hills concept restaurant.

You'd think that we couldn't possibly have room to eat more.

However, to think so, you must be oblivious to the concept of betsubara... literally, separate stomach, the idea is expressed rather verbosely in English as "there's always room for dessert."

Toraya Cafe is a contemporary-style wagashi shop... Much like Tsujiri Cafe, from Uji, they reference traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionary) but playfully reimagine flavors and presentations. Toraya, though, is a very old confectionary company, and their parent company is equally adept at old-school and contemporary wagashi.

Most of us ordered some sort of beverage, generally some kind of tea. Kristin ordered  a "matcha glacé", a sort of sweet matcha drink that doubles as a dessert.

Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce

Tōnyū Pudding with Matcha Sauce 

I ordered some azuki-cha (roasted azuki mean tea) served cold, with optional wasanbon syrup, a lightly processed sugar cane syrup, as a sweetener.

One of the things I love about soy-based foods in Japan, including desserts, is that, for the most part, little effort is made to conceal the soy flavor. In fact, the aroma of the soybean is often intentionally highlighted. Soy is not some sort health food or a second-class milk or meat substitute, but, when suitably fresh, a remarkable flavor all its own.

This tounyuu purin, or soy milk pudding, has a pronounced soy flavor and is pleasingly creamy.

A thick matcha-based crème anglaise adds a bittersweet touch and contrasts nicely with the soy pudding.

Dark azuki beans, slightly sweet, garnish the dessert in the same way you might expect to see in a coffee-based dessert.

Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion

Oshiruko With Pu-erh infusion

This remarkable variation of oshiruko, sweet azuki soup, is relatively traditional except for one subtle base note: The azuki are simmered with earthy Chinese pu-erh tea. Since azuki already has a somewhat earthy flavor, the flavor doesn't dominate, but provides a pleasant underlying accent that adds a subtle complexity to a dish that normally has a very straightforward, sweet flavor.

A few shiratama, also slightly tweaked for this dish, had, I believe, a little accent from white sesame seeds.

Although Toraya is a fairly large company, their cafe is, for me, one of the pleasant things that can happen when someone with vision and firm roots in a culinary tradition smartly reinterprets their palette of flavors and techniques with a creative eye. It's not hit-you-over-the-head culinary drama, but it's pleasingly innovative, and worth seeking out.

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