Wagashi and Tea Ceremony

November 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I love wagashi.

It was kind of a problem in Japan, because wagashi and matcha (powdered green tea) are so expensive that I could only have it on special occasions.

I love everything about them. Their seasonal shapes. The overwhelming sweetness. The combination of that sweetness with the bitter green taste of the matcha. The solemnity of the tea ceremony.

So what is wagashi anyway?

Wagashi means literally Japanese candy. While the term can refer to a range of candies, they are all generally made out of an bean paste and are often served at tea ceremonies. The sweetness of an is nothing like the sweetness of sugar, it is deeper and doesn’t give me the sugar jitters.  Since wagashi are most often made of plants, they have little to no fat. Also adzuki beans, especially when processed into an paste, have high concentrations  of catechins, anthocyanidin and polyphenols. So, if you want to have candy, you might as well eat some that might fight cancer and heart disease!

These little candies come in all shapes and sizes, but they are above all other things seasonal candies. The image above is of a wagashi that I bought in spring, it is appropriately a flower blossom. There are wagashi for  winter,summer, fall, and even moon and rabbit shaped wagashi for the moon viewing holiday.

If you ever go to Japan, it is likely you will encounter these at a tea ceremony, so here is a basic run down of how to comport yourself:

Tea Ceremony for the Common Person

This is what you do when you are given your chawan (tea cup)

  1. Bow
  2. Take chawan with right hand, place it in palm of left hand
  3. Rotate chawan 3 times clockwise with the right hand (this should make a 180 degree turn)
  4. Look at the cup and admire it (the “front” of the cup is facing you now)
  5. Try to drink the tea in 3 sips
  6. After drinking, wipe the rim of the chawan where it touched your lips with a napkin
  7. Rotate the chawan as in step three, but counterclockwise
  8. Return the chawan to your host
  9. Bow

Umeshu (Plum Wine)

November 5, 2011 § 4 Comments

So yesterday I wrote  about yuzu, today I will be writing about another Japanese fruit that I love: ume.

Ume is often translated into English as plum, but while it is from the same genus of trees (prunus) it is very unlike the plums that we know in the West. They are small, hard, and green when unripe; they are  soft and yellow with a hint of red when ripe.

An important thing to know about ume is that they are poisonous. So don’t eat them unprocessed! When they are made into umeshu or ume jam correctly, they are no longer toxic, but keep the yummy looking fruits away from children!

Ume are abundant after the rainy season in Japan ( which is literally called plum rain) in late spring to early summer. During this time, all groceries begin to stock the supplies for making umeshu. Nearly everyone in Japan makes plum wine, and many older Japanese people have several very old jars sitting underneath their kitchen sinks getting older and more delicious with age. I made umeshu and the hardest part was waiting 10 months to taste it!

Umeshu has a thick consistency. While it is called plum wine, I would really think of it like a fruit liquor. It has a golden color and a very pungent taste. It can be drunk on the rocks or with tonic (a favorite of older Japanese men) and is thought to be good for digestion.

Umeshu (Plum wine)

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 lb unripe ume plums
  • 2 lb rock sugar
  • 7 1/2 cups shochu for umeshu (clear distilled spirit which contains 35 % alcohol), or vodka 
  • Jar

Directions

  1. Wash ume and dry
  2. Remove stems using a bamboo stick or knife. This is important to remove toxins.
  3. Wash and sterilize large glass jar
  4. Layer ume and rock sugar in jar
  5. Pour shochu or vodka over sugar and plums
  6. Seal jar and store in dark, cool place
  7. For first month, rotate jar daily to aid aging process
  8. Enjoy after 10 months, but it is better to wait at least one year

 

 

Ginger Tea

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have an easily upset stomach, and I hate taking medicine, so this has been a wonderful alternative to pain relievers and gas pills for me.

Ginger is known to alleviate nausea, arthritis, diarrhea,  and even lower cholesterol. Not only this but it is an analgesic, sedative, and has antipyretic and antibacterial properties!

Below is my rough recipe for ginger tea, but these instant crystals were also popular in Japan, where I first drank this tea.

Ginger Tea

  1. Peel and cut up ginger roughly
  2. Pour equal parts sugar, water, and ginger into pot
  3. Boil until mixture takes on a syrupy consistency, about 30 minutes
  4. Either strain out ginger or leave in and store in a jar
  5. Make tea by pouring hot water over ginger mixture

Yuzu

November 3, 2011 § 2 Comments

Today I will tell you about one of my favourite fruits in the world; yuzu.

It is a type of  East Asian citrus that looks similar to the child of a lemon and a grapefruit, but is supposedly a hybrid between the sour mandarin and Ichang papeda. The fruit itself is very sour and basically inedible, but the peel is amazingly fragrant.

Nothing else I have ever smelt or tasted has been like yuzu.

In Japan, yuzu comes into season in winter. It’s easy to tell because as soon as you enter the grocery store you are overwhelmed with the strong scent that emanates from the piles of fruit. There, during the winter solstice yuzu is added to hot baths to ward off sickness from the coming cold winter nights.

However my favorite thing to do is to make yuzu tea! It tastes amazing and it is often used to help cure colds and ease an upset stomach.

Yuzu cha (Yuzu tea)

  1. Gather several yuzu
  2. Peel and pith yuzu
  3. Discard Pith
  4. Section yuzu
  5. Create a simple syrup about equal to the amount of yuzu in wieght
  6. Layer yuzu flesh, peel, and simple syrup in a jar
  7. Wait one week
  8. Spoon out a bit of the yuzu cha into a cup, and cover with boiling water
  9. Drink!

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