Wednesday, 6 July 2011

wagashi boom

"My boom" or "(***)boom" are expressions used by Japanese speakers to talk about something they've been really into lately.  For example, 最近サングリアブームです!(saikin sanguria boom desu!)  Means that you've been really into drinking sangria recently. (See postscript on this language below.)

My boom at the moment is wagashi (Japanese sweets), in particular, 豆大福 (Mamedaifuku).  Daifuku is a mochi (glutinous rice) cake stuffed with anko, or sweet red bean paste.  Anko is a common component of traditional Japanese sweets, and a flavor that it took me a while to warm up to.  As a vegetarian in Canada, beans were a regular part of my diet, but the idea of sweet bean as a dessert flavor took some getting used to. There are several different kinds of daifuku, but my very favourite is mamedaifuku, as it contains whole beans tucked into the mochi portion.  The addition of these beans doesn't change the flavor so much as adds another interesting dimension to the texture palate: thick, sticky anko, chewy mochi, and harder beans.

Daifuku can be found at combinis, supermarkets and specialty shops.  I think the main catalyst for my wagashi boom is that I discovered a lovely little wagashi shop by my work.  Though the price is double what one pays at a combini (200¥ rather than 100¥), the difference in flavor is well worth it.  My specialty shop's diafuku is so much more flavorful, and a look at the ingredients reveals a better quality and a simpler list.  The specialty shop's daifuku are made from rice, beans, and sugar (and starch?), while the combini version is a longer and more artificial list, allowing a cheaper product with a longer shelf life.  I also love that my local shop is a small business, and the employees are able to interact in a more genuine and less scripted way.

Though mamedaifuku is my #1 favorite, I've tried a few of their other goodies too.  The photo below is a seasonal treat, with a pancakey outside and mochi inside.  I was assured that the fish link was in shape only!

So pretty.  Wagashi are popular as gifts so presentation is extremely important.

Unlike most western desserts, wagashi are generally vegan.  The little jellied ones below, however, appeared to be made with gelatine.  When I inquired about this, the lady behind the counter said they indeed were made with gelatine, but the older man resting in the back of the store insisted they were made with kanten (a seaweed based jelling agent).  They insisted back and forth for a bit (family businesses are cute!) and the matter was never solved.  I'm going to assume they are not vegetarian, but they sure are nice to look at.    

Postscript: The above use of "boom" was ok'd by my Japanese advisor #1.  But, as I'm paranoid about teaching you bad Japanese, I ran it by a few Japanese coworkers today, and they said it was a bit off.  Both said that the expression (***)boom is used when something is popular with a big group of people, while one should say "my boom" when talking about something that one person is into.  They suggested: 

saikin no maiboom wa sanguria desu.

Do any Japanese speakers want to weigh in on this?  

Another interesting note about this language is that you can also talk about another person's "my boom". So it would be permissible to ask your friend the equivalent of "what's your my boom these days?".

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