These are little mochi (glutinous rice cakes) stuffed with any number of sweet filling. Azuki are commonly made with a red bean paste made from azuki beans (and so, in terms of filling, not unlike Chinese mooncakes). In my foodie research, I've seen some gorgeous photographs of daifuku filled with whole pieces of fruit -- especially strawberries or other berries -- inside and other sweet-bean paste variations. I am looking forward to consuming the beauty of these little sweets as much as I am their lovely taste and delicate texture.
My only disappointment about this fabulous opportunity to travel to Japan is that it does not coincide with the summer Tokyo plans of my dear friend Sarah. Sarah is a Tokyo denizen of long-standing and manages to make it back to the city--her home for over a decade--every summer for academic research and reconnecting with friends. Unfortunately, my own travel itinerary ends just before she arrives. But she's giving me plenty of virtual guidance, like the suggestion that I try one of these little hyper-vitaminy fizzy drinks that the Japanese adore. It's only 140ml--just a few mouthfuls worth--and supposedly as tasty as it is potent.
3. "artisanal tofu" from Tofuya Ukai
I've been a vegetarian for twenty years. I'm no stranger to the tofu in its infinite variations. But the kind of artisanal tofu that they make at Tofuya Ukai, the former sake restaurant turned gourmet tofu temple, is something I've never before had the pleasure of meeting on my plate. A recent Food & Wine article on the restaurant by a friend of a friend describes a multi-course lunch that has me coming undone at the mere thought of all this lusciousness:
Back home in the states, I am disinclined toward pre-bottled cocktails, wine coolers, alcopops such as Bacardi Breezers or Smirnoff Ice, etc. etc. The reasons for this are many but chief among them is this: I am an adult. However, I do not plan to let my longstanding status as a grownup and my general aversion to mass-marketed fruity-alcoholic beverages keep me from sampling chu-hai. Fruit-flavored, fizzy schochu drinks in a can. (Shochu, for the uninitiated, is a Japanese distilled beverage made from rice, barley, or other grains.) The come in a zillion flavors -- ume sounds especially tasty -- and are known more for their kitschy and nostalgic (I'm sure this is every Japanese teenager's introduction to drinking) qualities rather than taste.
5. Matcha flavored Morinaga Caramels
Morinaga caramels are a well-known brand of Japanese caramels from a company with a more than 100-year tradition. Fans of the caramels note that they are less salty than American caramels, generally softer and with more subtle, herbal notes. I am a big fan of all things sweet and salty (when back home in Maine, I am hopelessly addicted to Coastline Confection's dark chocolate River Mill bar, which is spiked with Maine Sea Salt) so the idea of a less-than-salty caramel leaves me a little bit meh--what's the point?). But here's what intrigues me about these little Morinaga sweets: they come in "matcha" flavor. Matcha is powdered green tea. It powers that impossibly delicate/strong taste that green tea ice cream delivers and Morinaga packs it into a caramel confection. In which case, I forgive said caramel's lack of salty goodness and predict thoroughgoing devotion.