My wagashi intake has skyrocketed this year.
I’ve somewhat given up on–or rather, had to redefine–that New Year’s resolution to consume fewer sweets. Ha! What I was thinking? Well, I suppose there are a lot of good reasons to try to hold this up, but I’ve instead chose to focus on saving fancy desserts for special occasions and enjoying them more mindfully. While I’ve had some very sweet special occasions that merited visiting my favorite fancy Western dessert cafes (and then some), I consume wagashi (Japanese style confections) more often. It’s not unusual to have several per week, as Matsue is one of the three famous wagashi producing cities of Japan. It is a part of the local culture, and besides my exposure to them in daily life, I also started tea ceremony lessons in April. Therefore, once a week, it’s not unusual for me to have two or three of them in a single night.
Not all wagashi are the same sculpted little namagashi masterpieces, though! Many do not have a seasonal motif at all, or are made with a much wider range of ingredients, or they came across more like snack food. While there are a handful of especially famous local chains around town, there are also many small family-size shops with their own original lines of sweets. Kougetsu-an is one of the younger establishments, having only opened in the 1980s.
This is the kind of place where I stop when I need a unique little gift, such as these grape mochi–large, fresh sweet grapes covered in sticky rice coating. The juiciness and chewiness worked very nicely together.
While not unique to Kougetsu-an, they have my kuzu-yu of choice. This is a thick, sweet, soup-like concoction that runs a little smoother than honey made from kudzu vine starch, and has been historically used not only as a comforting sweet, but as a medicine thought to help with headaches or common colds (I’ve tried a more medicinal variety as well, but didn’t enjoy it).
They are contained in single serving pouches like so.
Simply dump the starchy contents into a heat-safe glass, add 100ml of boiling water, and stir. Notice in this variety there are salty little cherry blossoms, like the edible ones sold in Unnan. In such a sweet broth, the saltiness is a welcome contrast.
Got your genki back? I do! Highly recommended for cold winter days. Throughout Japan, kudzu starch is used not only for kuzu-yu, but for firmer wagashi or as a thickening agent in other recipes.