April 30, 2005

chacolates: bis

The memories of my recent Kyoto trip are still with me, so are the things I found there. I liked the matcha pavés au chocolat from Nakamura-ya Tokichi so much I mail-ordered another box of them, along with a rather unusual kind of cha-colate: chocolate infused with hoji-cha, or roasted green tea.

Hoji-cha may be much less known than regular green tea outside Japan, but it
is a nice, refreshing tea with a slightly smoky taste that is not unlike that of barley tea. It isn't green, by the way, due to the roasting process.

That's how these hoji-cha chocolates aren't green like matcha chocolates; they almost look like mere regular chocolate cubes, almost.

Now there's nothing new about the east-meets-the-west combination of matcha and chocolate in this country, but when it comes to Japanese tea other than regular green tea, it's another story. I didn't know of chocolate with hoji-cha until recently I when saw Nakamura-ya Tokich's*1, and I didn't seem to be the only one.

Just so you know, we never, ever - not at least as far as I am concerned and I know - sweeten hoji-cha to drink. Never. But we wouldn't sweeten green tea for drinking, either, and that made us yuck when matcha sweets made their first appearance years ago. But we are now not only used to them but love them - so why not trying hoji-cha in sweets? At least a try, should we?

I was more curious than suspicious, and the first bite turned my anticipation into conviction: it was yummy! It did taste of fragrant hoji-cha, but in a subtle and pleasant way - actually, if I had eaten a piece without knowing it was hoji-cha chocolate, it could have been hard to figure out the secret.

Together, the matcha and hoji-cha chocolates made a nice company to a cup of green tea*2 freshly brewed using leaves I also bought from the same tea shop.

*1: Although, I did know of hoji-cha kasutera (sponge-like egg-rich Japanese cake) sold by another Kyoto tea shop Gion Tsujiri, which I bought but haven't tried yet.

*2: It's a bit confusing, but "matcha" and "green tea" are not synonyms; matcha normally comes in a form of powder, and makes very strong, thick green tea whose taste is what we usually find in "green tea sweets". A weak, paler-looking green tea like the one in the picture above, on the other hand, is called ryoku-cha, which literary translates "green tea", and this is likely to be what Japanese people would first associate with the term "green tea". Even now that everyone doesn't get surprised by "green tea sweets", people still won't think of this latter kind of green tea be sweetened... so something like American Arizona Tea would be a pure amaze to some.


We're having really warm weather these days, and here's the last bit of cherry blossoms; this time it's yae-zakura, the one with multi-layered pink petals.

Carpet of flower petals

By the Imperial Palace, Tokyo

April 27, 2005

tofu a la mode?

One of the things I missed so bad while in Hawaii was tofu. Of course tofu isn't a hard-to-get item at all in Hawaii, but I am talking about the kinds we have in Japan, the ones I have been familiar with. Japanese tofu - both momen and kinu-goshi - is way softer and smoother than firm and silken tofu, respectively, that I found in Hawaii. In fact, Hawaii's firm tofu tends to be really firm, so much so I'd only use it in stir-fries or curries. Even silken tofu wasn't soft enough for me to want to have it uncooked.

Away from home, Hiya-yakko, or chilled tofu, was thus something I would pine after. Here good tofu is abundant and hiya-yakko is not a big deal, but when I have really good tofu, that's how I want to taste it - like I did the other day.

This silken tofu from Fujino was one of my acquisitions from my latest trip to Kyoto, where the tofu shop is located at.

My favorite way to taste good silky tofu (such as oboro-dofu, which is even softer and more delicate than silken tofu) is: first, I'd eat it as is, without any sauce or seasoning, nothing. Good tofu are mellow and sweet, delicious itself and doesn't need a help of seasonings. Next I'd sprinkle a pinch of good sea salt - not much, just a bit, enough to bring out the flavor of the natural sweetness of tofu. Then I'd finally reach for soy sauce and maybe some garnish, such as katsuo-bushi or dried bonito shaves (oh, I didn't mean you, Anthony!), spring onions, sesame seeds, grated ginger roots, and/or shiso. Very simple.

But sometimes I do feel like something more colorful and rich, and that's when I help myself with "special" hiya-yakko. By "special", I mean I put a heap of garnish and condiments like this.

That day I got some shiso leaves, myoga (what is myoga? ask Santos, she obviously knows about it way better than I do), young ginger, red pepper, Japanese negi (not very far from spring onions - not shown in the picture), and sesame seeds. I would have liked some dried shrimps, too, which I couldn't find in my neighborhood on that day.

Basically, all I needed to do was slicing up the herbs, vegetables, and spices and mounted everything on blocks of tofu. As a rule of thumb, the more garnish, the better.

Now I can simply drizzle soy sauce over it and serve, but I like to take an extra step by heating some sesame oil in a skillet and pour it over the tofu, then soy sauce. Warmed sesame oil not just renders its wonderful flavor even more, but brings out garnishes' flavors as well by slightly cooking them, making a nice contrast between chilled tofu and a bit warm garnishes. I can see myself having countless servings of tofu like this over the coming several hot months, until when I start missing yu-dofu or warmed tofu in the late autumn.

Private correspondence #1: Anthony - Don't forget ginger for your hiya-yakko (especially when you actually eat it). ;)

#2: Santos - it's getting hotter here, too, so I guess it's about time that I eat what she who eats what she who eats ate is eating, again
. :)

April 24, 2005

saturday afternoon green tea

We had a lovely weather in this Saturday afternoon here in Tokyo, and I was at a Mariage Frères tea room in Ginza, having a pot of tea called Thé vert Marco Polo, or "Marco Polo" green tea. The sweet, floral scent of their renown Marco Polo black tea happens to be a bit too much to my taste (my regular choice of Mariage Frères tea is Grand Bois Chéri), but when paired with green tea, it gets more subtle, sweet but lighter. Very nice.

April 21, 2005

red but yellow

text shall follow shortly... Now it has. This is Saffron and Stem Ginger Cheesecake, based on a Gordon Ramsay recipe. Saffron seemed to me a rather unusual ingredient for cheesecake, and so did ginger (albeit not as unusual as saffron).

I know, you can sort of spot a strand of saffron on the surface of the cake in the image, but it'd be unlikely to guess that there's ginger in it.

Saffron, an indispensable spice for Spanish paella, is normally quite high-priced, but considering how small an amount you usually need at a time, it actually isn't too bad - although I wish I had gotten it in a smaller portion, even if I only got 1 gram (0.0353 oz!).

I first toasted saffron strands very lightly, then soaked them in hot water. I have always wondered how come these scarlet shreds would give out such near-fluorescent yellow.

The other featured flavor in this cheesecake is stem ginger, which is rarely, if at all, found in Japan. It is basically young ginger roots preserved in syrup, so I tried and reproduce something similar using first-of-the-season young ginger.

I cooked some ginger roots first in plain water, changing water several times, then in water, brown sugar, and honey. The ginger didn't get as tender as stem ginger should be, but I at least got syrup that resembled that of stem ginger. I decided to add some store-bought crystallized ginger bits.

Now the cheesecake batter, as with most other cakes I'd usually make, was quite easy to whip up. It should contain mascarpone cheese, creme fraiche and soured cream - and I just used mascarpone and sour cream, as creme fraiche also doesn't seem to exist in this country (sigh).
Other than that, I followed the recipe - well except that I didn't bother to make sponge base but simply baked the cheesecake in small ramekins.

The cake rose prettily and then sunk. I chilled them overnight before having a bite, and the cakes had nice and moist, and yet light texture thanks to whipped egg white. Saffron definitely added a character to both flavor and color, whereas ginger wasn't all that prominent, which I wished it had been. It was really interesting to taste saffron in sweet stuff, I'd definitely explore this further (and I've got loads of saffron left!).

April 17, 2005

early summery

Cherry blossoms are now gone - in Tokyo or in Kyoto - and we are blessed with lovely weather, a little warmer than normal it is like in May. A perfect weather to make ice-cream for those of us non-regular-ice-cream-makers.

I found the recipe of Elderflower Ice-Cream in Martha Stewart Living Annual Recipes 2002 (Oxmoor House, 2001) several months back when I was still in Hawaii and didn't know where to get elderflower cordial that is required in the recipe. I knew and long loved elderflower cordial in Japan though, so I clipped the recipe and waited till I am back in Japan. Now I was and got a pretty bottle of cordial without problem, so I went. (In the book, this ice-cream was meant to accompany berry tart - but who cares? I don't.)

To me, elderflower is very English - so far, every elderflower product I have ever seen was either found in, or from the UK. I haven't even seen fresh flowers - I would really love to one day, but for now I have some resources to get a bottle of this sweet and soothing beverage.

The recipe of elderflower ice-cream was fairly plain, with common ice-cream ingredients plus cordial. The thing was, I don't own an ice-cream maker at home - nor any room to accommodate one. But you have to live with what you have and what you don't, right?

I whipped up the ice-cream mixture and put it in the freezer to freeze, during which I manually churned it a couple of time, trying to smoothen the cream. The result, unfortunately, was't as smooth as I had wished it to be, with some bits of unwanted crystals mixed into the cream.

It was okay though, my ice-cream was definitely charmed with the sweet aroma and light flavor of elderflower cordial, no matter how it was innocently-looking as if it had been ordinary vanilla ice cream. A little plain it might have tasted, but along with a strawberry or two for a bit of tartness, the ice-cream made a dessert lovely as the early summery day like this.

April 15, 2005


Last Friday I made a trip to Kyoto, when sakura or cherry blossoms were just about to bloom in full. I had only one full day there, but it was a lovely springy day and I walked a lot, saw a lot of trees and blossoms, and ate and brought back a bit of good stuff the old city had to offer. I meant to blog this trip ages ago - but it has taken me a whole week to do this, and I am sure by this time most of the blossoms would have been gone. Cherry blossoms have such a short life on the tree, which may be why people go crazy about them and try to capture the year's view of blossoms while they can.

I had a bit of trouble in uploading images here, and am now pretty exhausted, so I'm just posting pictures for now - full text will follow shortly. (Click on the small images for a larger view)

Apr 17 updated: I have only added brief descriptions of food items here... I decided the rest is quite self-explanatory.

Daigo-ji Temple

Breakfast @ Boulangerie Le Petit Mec

I had heard that this place is one of the best bakery in Kyoto, and had been eager to pay a visit - now I did! The small bakery, now open only three days a week - Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays - had a beautiful selection of classic french bread and more creative ones, such as this croissant filled with whipped cream and custard. With a cup of nice coffee it made a small but caloric breakfast to start a long day.

Kyoto Gosho (Kyoto Imperial Palace) (in Kyoto Gyoen)

Snack: green tea ice-cream bites @ Tea shop Gion Tsujiri

An old and well-known tea shop Gion Tsujiri has been doing good selling a range of tea-products from fine matcha (green tea powder) to tea cookies and cakes to ice cream. I got a small box of five of them, and immediately popped them into my mouth as I strolled down old Gion quarter. Rich and creamy, yet refreshing in the hot-rather-than-warm afternoon.

Chion-in Temple

Nanzen-ji Temple

Tetsugaku-no Michi (Philosopher's Path)

Tea break @ Tea Room GOSPEL

Located near Ginkaku-ji Temple is this quiet, classic tea room on the second floor of an old house. They serve this beautiful cake roll that is almost legendary among some sweets lovers, made by a pastry chef called Yoko Tsuda, the owner of a cake shop/baking school and author of baking books including Kuru-kuru Roll Cake. The cake looked perfect - almost too perfect to be edible - and, more importantly, tasted good. The cake can be mail-ordered but it is said to take six months and up to fill an order due to the strong demand. I didn't see it quite worth of half-a-year wait, though.

Kamo River

Snack: Nikuman (meat bun) @ 551 Horai

A Kansai (Kyoto-Osaka area) favorite snack that I had wanted to try. Meat bun is one of my staple winter-time snack, and theirs was pretty meaty compared to most of the ones I'd have in Kanto (Tokyo area). Good though.

Kitsch subway train

Dinner @ "Obanzai Cafe" Kuri-Kuma

Obanzai is a collective name for traditoinal home-made dishes original to Kyoto, which nowadays are often served at restaurants like this. I had a Today's grilled fish set, including a bowl of rice, miso soup, grilled mackerel, two small obanzais (freeze-dried tofu and small yams) and pickles, and a separete order of hiya-yakko (chilled tofu). They make such dishes less saltier than those in Tokyo in general, but everything were well seasoned in real not-so-fishy fish broth. A very filling dinner.

Nijo-jo Castle

They lit up the castle for a couple of weeks including the day I was there, but I missed it by ten minutes... just ten minutes late! O well.

Things I brought home: Sweetwise, Kyoto is associated the most with matcha or green tea, and every merchant knows it so well it seems every single shop has something matcha-related. People don't seem to ever get tired of it, though.

Tsujiri-no Sato @ Gion Tsujiri

Matcha cream rolled in a thin crisp cookie. Yummy!

Tofu & Black Sesame Chocolates

I couldn't help grabbing a box of this at a shop - tofu and black sesame! How could I have not? But I later figured it a little... weird. It wasn't bad, but it really tasted like tofu... but it was chocolate. Strange.

Green Tea Chocolate & Sweet Black Bean Sandwich Cookies @ Cake shop Malebranche

They have an outlet in Tokyo, but this particular kind of cookies is claimed to be only available in Kyoyo Isetan department store. The pairing of green tea and kuromame or sweet black beans has become almost an fixture in Japanese sweets, and this one wasn't any new at all - but the quality chocolate and cookies did make a little difference.

"Chacolate" Pavés au Chocolat au Thé Vert (Green Tea Chocolate) @ Tea Shop Nakamura-ya Tokichi

It made me giggle to find out the name - chacolate, instead of chocolate, with cha meaning "tea". Since it is made and sold by a tea shop rather than a sweet shop per se, it isn't just a green cube with loads of additive colorings and flavorings but obviously uses quality tea in it that you can tell. I bought this also in Kyoto Isetan, but their main store is located in Uji, outside of Kyoto city, in an old-fashioned store that you can recognize in the painting of the box (see link for how the store really looks like).

Those blossoms were in full bloom!