My need to indulge in any Japanese-related food has led me to my Sunday excursion to a food fair called the travel log of delicious foods in autumn[秋のうまいもの紀行] . Chefs from famous shops all over Japan have flown over for the weekend just to feature an array of fall specialities.
Among the many was the popular Echizen Kani-Meshi[越前蟹飯], a bento filled with flaked crab meat often sold as a station lunch [駅弁] for travelers to eat during long train rides. My mouth watered at the pinkish white flesh of the snow crab, but my sole intention in coming here was to get my hands on obanyaki [大判焼き]. Many are familiar with Imagawayaki [今川焼き], a popular dessert in Japan with a variety of fillings ranging from red bean paste to custard. However, different geographic locations have a different way of creating and naming Imagawayaki; and Kansai’s version of it is called obanyaki. It may just seem like regular obanyaki to some, but they were featuring fillings of Hokkaido tsubuan, or chunky azuki bean paste with matcha cream. Being the fanatic for Hokkaido sweets and matcha flavoured things, I couldn’t resist.
Although quick, the line had tested my patience. What made the wait more bearable, however, was the open display of the chef making obanyaki, diligently ladling the center with generous fillings. There was a choice of just Hokkaido tsuban, a combination with Hokkaido soybean milk, and a mix with matcha cream. I ended up buying four obanyaki with Hokkaido red bean paste and matcha cream for $2.00/each. I moved quickly to the cashier to pay for my obanyaki, Hokkaido cream puffs when a specialty of Sendai, gyutan, or cow tongue, caught my eye. I knew I had to come back for those since my obanyaki were cooling down and eating them fresh was a priority. I resisted the temptation to eat my sweets before paying, and finally sunk into them and indulged in a little taste of Japan back here in the States.
The combo of buttery matcha cream and chunky azuki paste struck my taste buds in all the right places. The matcha was strong and bold, slightly overwhelming, but the richness of the sweet red beans balanced the flavors. Prior to my departure, I bought a few more obanyaki for my trip back home for the next few days, which lasts two days in the fridge and thirty days in the freezer. I was quite skeptical about getting the soybean milk and Hokkaido tsubuan, but then again, it was Hokkaido soybean milk cream [北海道豆乳クリーム]. Since Hokkaido is known for their dairy products, producing strong and smooth milk year round, it was a win-win situation. As I later found out, the soybean milk cream and the azuki paste complemented each other more than the strong flavours of matcha cream, where it the smooth texture of the Hokkaido soybean milk cream mixed into the chunky red bean paste. It was a milder taste, befitting of Japanese sweets that value subtlety.
I moved quickly to the next target, gyutan [牛タン:Grilled beef tongue] from Tsukasa [司]in Sendai. I have developed a soft spot for gyutan in my heart ever since my recent visit to Sendai, although I only had the chance to taste it twice since I had a long list of food specialities to check off during my trip. The first time was in Matsushima Bay in a booth, and the other a stand in Rikyu [利久]. I remember the gyutan I had at Rikyu was thick and fleshy, so although the charcoal scorched it on the outside, the inside was still tender and fresh.
The booth was selling gyutan bento and just gyutan, and while each looked equally delicious, I decided to pick gyutan instead. The slender pieces of gyutan were grilled using charcoal from Iwate Prefecture in Japan, one of the major production sites for charcoal. By grilling with charcoal, the full flavor of gyutan is brought out, and their choice of using only the tenderest portion of the Australian gyutan makes it even more perfect. Although it was relatively inexpensive, 4-5 generously sized pieces for $8.50, I wouldn’t have minded having more. I definitely preferred the gyutan from Rikyu more as it was thicker than the slices from Tsukasa. Savoring the gyutan once again reminded me of my surreal trip to Sendai and the experience of eating the treat with 25+ people.
Last but not least, I scurried to grab myself a Hokkaido Creme puff with Yubari melon [夕張メロン] cream filling. Hokkaido is not only known for it’s rich, sweet, and creamy milk, but also for Yubari Melon, a cantaloupe hybrid grown in the small scenic town of Yubari located in the Sorachi subprefecture of Hokkaido. These top grade melons often retail from $50-$100 each in department stores, although auctioning prices for the first harvest ones have been as high as $26,000. Each melon is checked meticulously before it can receive the Yubari sticker and be shipped out for retail. The golden orange flesh and fragrant succulent juices can only be compared to the top grade beef of Kobe. Temptations called out my name. Yubari cream? Don’t mind if I do.
Unfortunately these were not freshly made and were stashed in a fridge, but by the time it defrosted, the cream puff had a light dainty texture and the flavor of the melon cream was definitely sweet but mild, as it did not overpower the pastry.