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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

Convenience Stores Are Calling Me

There is one Korean convenience store I know of in New York. It’s called H Mart, and I swear to you there have been many a times I have tried to find it to realize a block later I simply walked past it. I don’t know what it is, but Asian convenience stores are so easy to miss. There are no flashy signs, no markers that it is a store…hell now that I think about it the Sunrise Mart location downtown actually has this creepy (somewhat) marked elevator you have to jump in to get to the goods on the second floor. But what if I told you that I found a Korean convenience store, but I’m not sure I know anything else about it…Read on.

As I mentioned, I only know of one Korean grocer. I usually frequent Japanese grocers and convenience stores mainly because I know more about those foods and can read most labels. Thinking back, I’m not even sure if M2M is considered a general Asian convenience store. I’ve visited three different locations and each had a good amount of Japanese goods (i.e. an aisle of Pocky), one or two things in Chinese and tons of ramyeon.

Last night, I had a dream that I was in Korea. This was strange off the bat, since that country is fairly low on Asian countries I’d like to visit. Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Cambodia, and Vietnam are a few places that rank highly on my mental list. I’ve studied Japanese language, history, and customs nearly half my life and it’s something I’m very passionate about. I appreciate traditional Chinese culture and took half a year of Mandarin – something that luckily has still stuck with me. I also learned simplified Chinese characters before studying formal Japanese, so it helped a lot with understanding Kanji.

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That being said, I would have a degree of language survival skills in Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. I know HK’s main language is Cantonese, but there is some crossover from what I’ve heard. Singapore has four official languages, English and standardized Mandarin being two of them. (Tamil and Malay being the others)

Macau is Portuguese, but I studied Spanish and Italian for a few years. I once heard Portuguese referred to as “drowning Spanish” by an old HS teacher which, unfortunately, has become my mental associate for it.  The last two countries don’t bother me language-wise, and I just feel like it’d be okay since I would most likely go by tour with guides. Aside from what I’ve picked up from watching Kdrama, Hangul eludes me.

The language barrier aside, I also don’t know much about the culture or its food. I’ve never had good experiences when I tried making Korean friends in the past so I’ve never really bothered to learn. That is to say, I didn’t really meet many Japanese people until I started work at the cultural center – but my (unsavory) encounters with Koreans over the years have stained my perception of their country. It’s terrible to have a forlorn attitude toward a country, but I do.  Just typing this is bringing back memories of a high school friend I had who was half Korean.

Her mom spoke the language but never taught her and I just thought that was really cool at the time. I wasn’t exposed to much diversity when I attended private schools, but when I went to a public high school I relished the opportunity to talk to anyone. I went over her house with a group of friends and the next day during the lunch period she told me I probably shouldn’t come back over. I asked why and she told me that her mom didn’t know everyone’s names. I sympathized, as I have a hard time remembering names myself. I’m much better with faces.  She continued to say that her mom called her best friends buddies (the entire group) Tiger’s friends and that she just called me “that black girl, the black one…” you get the idea. Obviously his name wasn’t Tiger, but you can infer my meaning.

That really hurt me and after that I told her I couldn’t be her friend anymore and never spoke to her again. It wasn’t her fault her mom felt that way, but she did nothing to stand up for me and why should I be involved in a situation like that? Why put myself in a situation like that, when there are so many more people in this world who won’t be complete idiots? I’ve tried making Korean friends all those years later, and similar things have always happened so I stopped trying.

So again, South Korea is very low on places I would willingly visit. I’ve never encountered such hostility with other Asian groups, and I usually get along with everyone. It just hasn’t happen yet with them.

In the dream, for some reason I was staying with a friend I’d never met at her apartment. I’d only been in the country one or two days. I realized I hadn’t visited a convenience store and I was leaving back to the states soon. The friend called a cab for me and gave instructions to the driver to bring me to the airport in Hangul. I wanted to ask if there was a shop on the way to the airport, and took out my phone and tried to use a translation app. He read it and then started speaking in English. I told him I wasn’t sure he spoke English and explained where I wanted to go. He agreed to wait for me and I went into this blue-green building that seemed to be under construction. When I walked inside there was a place for hot foods and the counter you could normally sit at by the window was covered due to construction.

There was a spot in the corner that sold these novelty items, some sort of cutesy characters on mirrors and other similar things. They were a brand but I couldn’t read the characters. The store also had snacks around and a lot of baked goods. I grabbed cream puffs and a variety of other similar pastries – one of each. I knew the brand when I was asleep, but upon waking I can’t for the life of me remember what I saw. It was an English name.  I struggled to pay but I got the goods and took a last look around before leaving. People were eating in a corner and other people were just doing their own thing paying me absolutely no mind. No foreigner stares. It was nice. I went back to the taxi driver and he drove me another ten minutes (maybe a thirty-minute walk) to the airport. Then I woke up.

I felt strange after that dream. It made me want to visit Korea even if for a day to try convenience store foods. There are also some really beautiful neighborhoods and I am a sucker for historical building.  I felt comfortable there, and that is what is really messing with me. Maybe I should keep an open mind regarding things like this?

I didn’t plan on writing about some of the things I did. I guess writing is magical in that way, you go in with one idea and it evolves into something else. I graduated high school in 2010, and the incident I spoke of happened when I was in 10th grade, so 2008. Almost ten years ago. Literally something I hadn’t thought about in years just randomly came out and fit itself into a blog post. It was cathartic to pen it out to all of you reading.

I probably won’t post about these situations much, as I thankfully don’t have many bad experiences to share. But if I do, know that I hesitated greatly before posting it. I never want to dissuade anyone from visiting a place based on my experiences. I’m sure South Korea is a really great place to visit, but I’ve just never had good experiences with its people in America.

That was years ago, and things can always change. This blog is also named “In Asian Spaces” because I enjoy all Asian cultures, even if I mainly focus on Japan. If you’ve visited South Korea before, what was your favorite food you tried while there? Do you have an experience you would like to share – good or bad? Leave it in the comments, I would love to hear from you! Be sure to follow us for more stories and coming conversations about snacks!