Finding Seasonal Sakura Mochi | 花見餅 | 和菓子

If you haven’t already, be sure to check out my first review of Sakura Goromo from Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Sakura Matsuri. I outlined my experience with Japanese wagashi, reviewed the snack and elaborated a bit on my extensive food allergies. Which speaking of those, my pollen-allergy body seems to have just registered that I ate a literal flower. My throat felt a bit tingly and although I don’t think it’s any sort of allergic reaction, I took a Benadryl just in case. I’ve also begun to drink the coffee I had waiting to clear my palate. If you have pollen and seasonal allergies, just a word of caution to those who may also be sensitive to ingesting something like this. I am in the comfort of my home trying these and I often carry allergy medicine, but if you are worried you may have a reaction while out maybe save the snacks (if possible) until later to try.

Now, on to the snack review!

When I’ve had mochi in the past, I’ve usually opted for the lightly powdered varieties that mask the stickiness of the rice. This snack in particular had none such coating. It was delicately encased within a sakura tree leaf. On its top, a dried cherry blossom stuck pressed to its surface. I used to wonder if you should eat the leaves surrounding some mochi, but learned that it is safe to do so.

IMG_3676edited

The plastic wrapper was easy to pop open and upon this I got an overbearing smell of what I could describe as the forest floor. A pungent blend of leaves, tree bark and the smell of grass on a warm day after it had rained quite a bit. There was the same hint of cinnamon spices into the mix, but much more subdued than the sakura bean cake.

IMG_3684edited

I put my fingers to the sticky rice and feel its gelatinous texture. I touch the smooth surface of the sakura leaf, which isn’t soggy per say but definitely beginning to deteriorate and intermingle in the mochi. The expiration date is set for April 29th and it is a day later.

IMG_3675edited

Although, I have found that you can always squeeze out one more day concerning mochi as long as it’s refrigerated and unopened. As per usual with this snack, there was no freshness packet in this. I learned this lesson the hard way after having Sanshoku dango turn on me multiple times after opening the package, eating one stick and then days later thinking I could come back to it and only finding mold and wasted money.

Judging by the earthy smell, I was a bit tepid in my concern to eat this snack.

IMG_3679edited

I was pleasantly surprised, and enjoyed this wagashi much more than the first one I ate a few minutes earlier. The sakura goromo definitely has a much more pleasing appearance, but for what the mochi lacked in aesthetic – it made up in taste.

Sinking my teeth in, the anko bean paste tasted sweet and mingled with the sticky rice so well. I barely tasted the sakura leaf, which was much less pronounced as the other flavors overpowered it. The cinnamon flavor filled my chest and the sticky rice slightly clung to my teeth.

IMG_3689edited

Taking a second bite, the flavor palate seems to have changed. I now tasted the saltiness most complain of when eating sakura food items.  I have yet to come to the dried bloom on this snack, so the culprit has to be the leaf. The veins seemed to have broken apart and turned into thin strings fraying along its spine.

The anko paste is definitely the smooth koshian variety that has the bean skins removed during processing.  I allow myself a bigger bite and the profile changes again and all I taste is sticky rice. This is indeed an interesting snack. It seems to change with every bite, although the core amounts of ingredients remain the same.  I am allowing myself a sip of coffee, as the leaf is trying to stick to the inside of my throat. Again, as in my last review, the traditional pairing of tea would have gone swimmingly with this treat.

It’s time to add the cherry blossom into the mix. In my last review, I pulled the blossom off and ate it separately to try to ascertain its natural taste. This time I will eat it together on the snack as is.

IMG_3690edited

The leaf touches my tongue first and tastes as salty as seaweed. I taste this pocket of sweetness fighting in the meld against the bitter and astringent elements. They combine and marry into a blend of cool, soothing, neutral tastes that leave more leaf particles in my throat.

Differing from the bean cake, there is no aftertaste. No overwhelming churn of cinnamon and reminiscence of Middle Eastern spices. There’s just a taste of sticky rice left in my mouth that is competing for top spot against the leaves.

This snack was much better eaten in small, dainty nibbles rather than shoving it all in for one last bite as I just did. In my experience, it just cancelled all flavor it had and left me wanting more.

 

IMG_3695edited

I am beginning to feel the effects of taking the Benadryl, so we will leave this review here.

Minamoto Kitchoan has a website. The two snacks I reviewed are not available at the time of writing this, but they have a great assortment to offer nonetheless.

Websites like Amazon and J-List also have a wide selection of wagashi and seasonal cherry blossom snacks. Pururi Sakura candies have soft jelly filled with sake, or an elegant tea that uses real blossoms for its flavor! If you would like to purchase these snacks as well as support the site, please use the links listed below.

What is your favorite type of mochi? Do you enjoy cherry blossom themed snacks? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I would love to hear from you! Also if you haven’t already done so, be sure to follow In Asian Spaces on WordPress, Twitter, Reddit and on our new Instagram Page! You can also sign up for direct email updates to see when we post new content using the form on the sidebar! Be sure to tell your friends, we have some awesome stuff planned as we move closer to the summer season!

What Do Cherry Blossoms Taste Like? | Sakura Goromo | 和菓子

Have you ever wondered what Cherry Blossom flavored items taste like? Anime always makes them look really great.
Today we’ll take a look at Sakura inspired creations and how they stack up against other Japanese snacks.

Oh Wagashi, How I love you so.

I’ve always vaguely wondered what Cherry Blossoms tasted like, but never had the opportunity to try them until now. Usually the Japanese convenience stores I frequent are either out of stock or I somehow missed the selection altogether.

Due to a freak accident that happened after trying sushi a few years ago, I am now allergic to most nuts and seafood – so I tend to stay away from numerous foodstuffs I’m not sure about. Dango, mocha, daifuku and senbei are some of my favorite traditional snacks. Kinako dango, koshian mochi, dorayaki and strawberry daifuku also hold special places in my heart. Mainly, anything with adzuki beans, matcha or (Hokkaido) cream are safe foods I have tried in the past.

I attended Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual Sakura Matsuri this past Saturday and visited a traditional sweets stand. Amongst a sea of money grabs they were a few beacons of hope.

I do know and respect that the Gardens have to make their investment back somehow aside from ticket sales, and a la movie theatre concessions stands that is why the prices were so inflated. However I cannot find any good justification for onigiri being $8.00 when I know convenience stores around the city sell them for $2.00. OR the $20.00 karaage that at certain places cost a healthy $4.00 at most. But I digress, we are getting off track.

The inflation of snack prices is a growing pet peeve of mine born the first time I attended Liberty City Anime Con.  I had never been to a non-profit convention before and it was a bit of culture shock coming from big cons like NYCC and Anime Expo with wholesaled merchandise.

I purchased two traditional Sakura snacks, Sakura Mochi and Sakura Goromo. We are going to talk about the latter today. This is also my first ever time trying to review a food, so bear with my less than eloquent descriptions of these foods.

IMG_3618edited

The last time I visited my grandma in Albuquerque was in 2010; I purchased random things from the local Vietnamese market. One of those things was a bamboo sushi roller mat. It has literally sat in a drawer in the corner of my room the past eight years waiting to find purpose within its inanimate object life.  On a cloudy day in April, its day has finally come.

(I also felt the need to cover up the Kokopelli placemats a bit.)

Sure, I should have broken out the porcelain blue dragon Chinese teapot for aesthetic reasons and the pretty white plates in the cabinet – but I wanted a more rustic look. Also, that means I’d have to wash dishes and that’s not something I’m keen on doing at 7 am on a Monday morning.

I appreciated that Minamoto Kitchen had ingredient inscriptions along with displays at their booth. Despite this, however, I still read the ingredients myself on the back of the package. I find that sometimes if anchovies or other fish are added into Japanese packaged foods, they will not be in the bottom ‘contains’ section. You have to scan every single ingredient to find it hidden in the third or fourth row of text. My favorite senbei ‘Yuki no Yado’ somewhere along the way began adding fish into the mix and for dietary reasons, I had to switch to a different brand. Or there is the issue of going to Bento shops or restaurants and mentioning you have a seafood allergy (シーフードアレルギーがあります) and sometimes I’ve still been offered miso soup.

IMG_3629edited

I know this is due to the fact that和食膳, Japanese food dishes, are primarily seafood based and vegetarianism isn’t really a thing there.  With this in mind, I tread lightly with my excitement over these snacks.

IMG_3668edited

I’m sure the crape-like outer shell was a lot less porous at the time of my purchase, but being out in the sun all day then later sitting in the fridge for two days left it a bit deflated.

I used scissors to open the packaging, which was quite sturdy. Opening it a strong floral smell mixed with cinnamon wafted into my nostrils. I also smelled the adzuki bean cake mixture.

IMG_3660edited

The freshness packet lay on the bottom of the neatly folded treat. There was a dried pink blossom pressed into its surface, and turning it on its side you can see red bean paste. Possibly tsubushian anko, as it seems the beans were mashed with their skins. Or it could be koshian anko, which is most commonly used in snacks and has the skins removed.

IMG_3664edited

I bit into the center and was pleasantly surprised by the strong taste of cinnamon spices and an actual leaf. Now the ingredients on the back say that it contains a leaf, but for some reason I wasn’t prepared for it to be hidden within the anko mixture. I laughed out loud as it reminded me of the first time I tried Kashiwa Mochi at Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day festival.  I asked if the oak leaf surrounding the mochi was edible and I was told it was not expected to be consumed but mainly used to hold the sticky rice. I now think next time I purchase that particular mochi I will try to eat the oak leaf, as the leaves are now in the salad blend I’m purchasing for my diet.

IMG_3673edited

The leaf by itself has a sort of musky, almost spicy taste. Similar to cardamom or Moroccan spices. The cherry blossom itself taste a bit watery and almost pink. Is that a thing? Can a food taste like the color it is? It is not necessarily sweet or bitter, and it also is a bit papery going down. I have coffee made which I plan on drinking after this review, but the traditional pairing of teas would have went splendidly with this treat.

IMG_3662edited

IMG_3672edited

Eating the last morsel of the cake, I am very satisfied with the taste. In the past I’ve watched YouTubers trying cherry blossom tea and other treats at festivals and remarking that it tasted like salt. I tasted nothing salty about this, only sweetness and musk. It also left a really great aftertaste in my mouth.

I’d like to try many more wagashi, but for now we’ll leave this review here. The review of the Sakura Mochi will soon follow this one. Ideally, I’d like to bring more reviews of obscure snacks to the site.

If you are in the New York area, Minamoto Kitchoan has locations in the World Trade Center Store and on Madison Ave. They are also online.

If you have an interest in Japanese wagashi but have no local Japanese community presence around where you live, certain websites have great seasonal selections. There are even things like Sakura Cherry Blossom Jam 5.1oz ! It can be used as a filling for any seasonal confection of your choice – you could even put it in a doughnut! Checking their selections out while using the link will also help the site bring more content like this to you all.

IMG_3624edited

Have you tried cherry blossoms snacks before? What is your favorite snack? Leave your thoughts in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on Twitter, Reddit and Instagram for more exploration of Japanese foods!

Brooklyn’s Own Cherry Blossom Festival | Sakura Matsuri 2018

This past weekend I attended Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual Sakura Matsuri festival in celebration of Japanese culture. It was held throughout the entire garden with events spaced out and designated to certain subset areas. Although it was foggy with moisture clinging heavily to the atmosphere, as the day progressed the sun came out and blessed attendees with the most amazing atmosphere.

Going through security was painless, and we received these pretty pink maps of the area, events, and activities happening throughout the day. I went on Saturday, and judging by the website Sunday’s events differed slightly and were geared towards families with kids.

It is no secret as this seems to be happening around the entire country, but we have been experiencing absolutely abysmal weather here in America. New York, in particular, is still averaging in the 40s when we are usually in the low 60s with humidity in April.  It even snowed earlier this month, which is a very rare and strange occurrence in spring. I could go on a tirade about the effects of global warming and capitalistic corporate interests, but it was a happy day so we will convey only happy thoughts.

Now I have a confession to make that admittedly, I am vaguely okay with: I am bad with directions. I’m a visual learner and can usually remember landmarks and buildings before memorizing street names and signs. It’s the same with people; I can remember faces well but not names. I do know how to read a map and follow directions, but if the map is just vague names and places I’ve never seen before my brain somehow goes “nope” and cancels the information out.

So despite many signs around the gardens with the iconic “you are here” red dots, having a map in my hands and even asking the physically ever-present staff – I could not for the life of me find some of the locations of these events.

I walked around in what felt like a loop trying to find some of the stages listed in the pamphlet to only sigh and stare at distant flowering trees.

I found the Cherry Esplanade stage by accident while I was looking for the Osborne Garden. In the Osborne Garden, I couldn’t find the Japanese Market. I had to continue to a hill, up some stairs to the right and came across the J-Lounge Stage. I now wondered where the J-Lounge Game Stop was – had I passed it? Did I miss it in the sea of people now pouring into the gardens at the three designated entrances?

Again, I am quite uncertain when it comes to directions.

However, there were truly stunning cherry blossoms flowered throughout the gardens. Several of the blooms were found in the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden toward the center of the festivities. The tour line was very long and I decided to move on instead of waiting. Judging by the crowd size and group limits, it would have been about twenty minutes before I could have been admitted – which would have been pushing toward the noon cut off time. The torii gate and koi pond could be viewed without going into the wooden gated enclave, and I opted to queue up to take photos.

IMG_3344edited

Many people were very kind and respectful, but there is always someone who decides to ignore the line and photobomb your perfect shots.

Walking around aimlessly I found many cosplayers, but not as many as I initially expected.

IMG_3443edited

Last year while I was still employed at a Japanese cultural center, I had a conversation with a co-worker inquiring information on the event. She expressed her displeasure at how many cosplayers and “weebs” turned out. I viewed a few weebs (some during the subway ride to the event – brightly colored dyed hair, decked out in anime merchandise gushing excitedly about their favorite anime and what to do first at the festival) but it was mainly people of all backgrounds coming to celebrate Japan on a nice weekend out.

IMG_3504edited

IMG_3498edited

A good amount of visitors were also wearing vibrant playful summer yukata with sneakers underneath. I can understand not wanting to wear geta sandals on such uneasy terrain.

IMG_3541edited

Later on, a really humorous moment occurred when stand-up comic Rio Koike asked the Japanese in the crowd to make some noise and everyone laughed when only a handful of people responded.

One of the less funny aspects of the festival was the pricing of food.

IMG_3383edited

Wow, everything was inflated. $20.00 for karaage? $8.00 for onigiri? I think I was floored because I know the Japanese (American) convenience store prices of these items and where to get high-quality items cheaply.

IMG_3405edited

IMG_3413edited

Regardless, people brought picnic blankets and sat on great lawns watching the events on the stage.

IMG_3385edited

IMG_3388edited

Because of our bad weather, many of the sakura trees had not blossomed.

IMG_3459edited

There were about three that were in peak bloom that attracted huge crowds.

IMG_3427edited

IMG_3424edited

I spent a good deal of time taking photographs of them as the petals blew in the wind.

IMG_3456edited

IMG_3466edited

It reminded me of the start of a new school year in anime.

IMG_3486editededited

In addition to live performances of Kabuki Buyo dances, there were taiko drummers, tea ceremony demonstrations, and anime culture themed music along with a Naruto dance party event.

IMG_3409edited

Wandering over to the Japanese Market you could find wagashi, kokeshi dolls, a bookstore selling language and travel-centric materials, handmade merchandise and Wuhao’s Tenugui wraps.

IMG_3559edited

IMG_3564edited

A display of an urban tea terrarium and mikoshi, 神輿 or portable sacred Shinto palanquin used during transportation to new shrines or festival ceremonies.

IMG_3544edited

So many concurrent events were ongoing and I heard that there would be a BBG Parasol Society Fashion Show, but unfortunately, I was not able to stay the entire day to see the performance. I caught glimpses of a few people walking around with parasols, so I’m sure it was a wicked event!

IMG_3369edited

All in all, I enjoyed my time at the Sakura Matsuri and loved the laid back mellow atmosphere. Brooklyn is always a welcome calmed pace in contrast to Manhattan. I even bought a travel book from a nice lady who set up shop outside of the nearby Brooklyn Museum.

20180428_124319edited

I’m not sure what other cherry blossom festivals are around New York or even NYC for that matter, but this one is definitely worth attending if you enjoy traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.

IMG_3397edited

No outside food is allowed, but bringing water bottles is a good idea. Also, a blanket to sit out on the lawn and of course a camera. If you would like to take professional or commercial photos or even bring a tripod, you need to apply for a permit beforehand. I arrived at the garden about half an hour after the event began at 10:00 am, and I suggest you follow the website’s advice of arriving during off-peak hours.

IMG_3543edited

The crowds really do suddenly materialize, and it’s nearly impossible to get great shots or find a choice area to set your blanket down.  Selfie sticks also are not allowed, but people do tend to sneak those in.

I’m not sure if this would be considered a review of BBG’s Sakura Matsuri, but it is a fun event and very welcoming of people from all backgrounds; It’s also kid friendly for parents. Security had a huge presence and would only politely ask guests or their children to not pick the flowers or take photos deep within the shrubbery (which I witnessed a few times. Like grown adult people actually hid in bushes and tried climbing into the trees).  I will without a doubt be returning next year.

20180428_124641edited

So, have you been to a Japanese Festival before? What is one festival you dream of attending? For years now, I’ve wanted to attend the Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori prefecture. I love the colorful floats and want to taste the super authentic hot festival foods. Also, Aomori is known for their great apples! Maybe not this year, but hopefully next August I can attend for myself in person.

Tell me what your favorite festival food is! Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I would love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more coverage of Japanese events around NYC (and beyond!). We also just launched an Instagram page which you can follow here! Let’s travel together!