Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Shiose Manjyu

I'm heading back to Australia today for a little Christmas sunshine! But first, I bring you a very Japanese (and in fact Chinese) sweet, the manjyu. My husband buys these for his friends and clients, but he also brought a box home, as he loves them.

They're about 800 yen for a box of 9.

dense with bean paste.

It's a small, steamed bun, slightly chewy, thanks to the addition of grated yam paste in the dough. Inside is densely packed red bean paste. Not my favourite, I confess. These are from Shiose, which is apparently the first place in Japan to make manjyu after they were brought over from China in 1349. Apparently, they were first eaten in Nara, where they became popular with the monks, who couldn't eat meat. The thick bean paste and chewy texture must have been very satisfying.
The main store is at 7-14 Akashichou, not far from Tsukiji fish markets.

Obviously, the original shop from the 1350s didn't survive earthquakes and wars.

The store's traditional sign.

If you like bean paste, you should try them! But if not, well, never mind.

Akashichou is a nice place for a stroll - in fact Chuo-ku has a lot of interesting and historical places, and likes to claim a lot of 'firsts' in Japan - birthplace of tonkatsu, oyakodon and uni sushi. There's an interesting guide and map that you can download here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Time to come clean

Pelican Soap

I love soap. It’s one of the easiest souvenirs: it’s relatively cheap, small and always useful. But more than that, the fragrance triggers strong memories. It’s getting cold here, but I recently opened a soap we had ‘souvenired’ from the Moana Surfrider hotel in Waikiki. Shaped like a leaf, it’s a pale green sliver of ‘green tea’ scented loveliness. As soon as I used it, I remembered our honeymoon and the sound of the sea. See? Your next holiday is just a shower away!

It's called Mutenka Sekken - additive free soap. It also says something like "Always healthy and lively!"

But when I’m not trying to re-live carefree holidays, I’m rather partial to this very ordinary soap. It’s just called “mutenka” or “additive free”, by Pelican Soap. It’s made in a factory in northern Saitama, so I'm going to count it as a 'hometown' meibutsu. It barely has any smell – just a slight ‘soapy’ scent, like clean skin. The bar itself has no branding; it’s just like a smooth, ivory pebble. The packaging is quite retro, with a Showa era typeface and a rosy-cheeked boy and girl; the boy has an old-school military-style cap in keeping with the times. If you want to enjoy a little of that “Showa” charm, I recommend the Ghibli animation, Kokuriko Zaka Kara – From Up on Poppy Hill, set 1960s Yokohama. It came out last year, but apparently, the English version won't be released till March 2013.

A scene from Kokuriko Zaka Kara

Pelican Soap has been around since 1947. The “Mutenka” soap costs about Y200, a little pricey for basic soap, but it lathers nicely and doesn’t crack, and I can find it at my local supermarket. Isn’t that the perfect souvenir of a moment?