Sweets Wrapped in Oak Leaves

(Kashiwa mochi, sweets wrapped in oak leaves for children’s day.)

Today, May 5 or 5/5, is Children’s Day, one of the string of national holidays this week. These holidays are collectively known as Golden Week, which doesn’t mean much to me, because my academic work doesn’t end, but it’s really nice to see people enjoying themselves at the neighborhood park or among the crowds in Shibuya, where I ran errands yesterday.

I didn’t realize until I looked it up just now that today is called Children’s Day and is supposed to be for both genders as of 1948. I thought that strange, because I somehow thought it was Boys’ Day, considering the images of Kintaro (the golden boy) and kabuto (samurai helmets) that contrast with the dolls of Girl’s Day, celebrated on March 3 or 3/3. Politicians can change the name, but they can’t change traditional festivals, I guess. It’s just unfortunate that in effect, “children” means boys today. I’m all for the boys having a festival, but call it what it is!

In any case, these last few weeks, the traditional sweet shops are all selling kashiwa mochi, mochi (rice pounded into a dough-like texture) filled with an (sweet red beans) or sweet Kyoto miso and wrapped in oak leaves. To eat them, you peel the tough oak leaves from the mochi, but sometimes bits stick to the mochi that end up in your mouth. The leaves have a unique aroma not unlike the pickled cherry leaves sakura moch, but I can’t seem to be able to figure out right now if the oak leaves for kashiwa mochi are pickled or not. . . anybody know?

Growing up, I never thought oak leaves were edible, although the home I grew up in was surrounded by huge oak trees that the arborist said were roughly 200 years old! To put that into perspective, that makes them older than the United States. Our house sat in their shade, which means we didn’t require any air conditioning in the summer.

As kids, my little sister (she hated the little, but how am I supposed to differentiate her from my big sister?), our friends, and I once collected acorns, shelled them, and in the process smashed the nutmeat inside. So, we picked out the shells and pounded the edible part into a flour with an old hammer, but the result didn’t taste all that great. We never thought to try the leaves. Haha!

But I do miss those oak trees. The windows of my room at the front of the house looked out towards the largest of our oak trees, and I would often leave my window open at night to hear the wind blow through the leaves as I fell asleep.

Tracing Mori Ogai in Leipzig


Liebigstraße is the street on which the Leipzig University Hospital, where Mori Ogai studied medical hygiene, is located and on which a pension he went for meals used to be located.

Over Christmas, I had the opportunity to go to Germany for two weeks to spend the holiday with my family. Over the trip, I kept a copy of Japan’s first great modern author Mori Ogai’s Deutschlandtagebuch 1884 – 1888 (Doitsunikki, Germany Diary)[1] as travel literature, and went to Leipzig on December 20th to see what I could trace of him there. Leipzig was the first city Mori lived and went to university in after coming to Germany as a military doctor to study hygiene. After returning to Japan, for a Japanese language school application I wrote the following paper about Mori Ogai, which I’ve edited to post here. I’ve included pictures of some of the places I found that were mentioned in his diary. Continue reading “Tracing Mori Ogai in Leipzig”

Gateau Chocolat

gateau chocolat
Gateau Chocolat from Raku Raku So

Apologies for the long absence. I have been adjusting to a new, full-time job. A job closely related to tourism and thus to food, and maybe because our work is also related to the arts or maybe because we get so many high quality food gifts in the business, we all seem to appreciate the fine points of good food.

Recently when my co-worker Michiko asked me to do a favor proof-reading an English text for a friend of hers, we agreed on a barter of proof-reading for cake, chocolate cake, actually Raku Raku So‘s gateau chocolat. Raku Raku So is in Kameoka, a city on the other side of the western hills of Kyoto, where thick fog fills the valley most mornings and the produce is delicious and abundant because of the high water table. Continue reading “Gateau Chocolat”



Spicy tofu with ground pork

Americans may question this combination. Why put a meat-substitute with meat? Sadly, tofu gets a bad rap in the states as a health food. Yet high-quality tofu (or practically any tofu in Japan) can be absolutely delicious even raw with a dab of ginger and a little soy sauce dribbled over the top. This dish, mabodofu, brings together the soft freshness of tofu with the contrasting texture of ground meat and unites it all with a bit of spice, an absolutely wonderful combination. Make a whole meal out of it, by piling it on an oppulent bed of red-leaf lettuce and eating it with a bowl of steaming hot rice.

Mabodofu is originally Chinese. I have no idea if the Japanese completely changed the flavors when they adopted it into their repetoir. I've only had it in Japan. Whenever I've gone to the lunch place where I ate this dish the first time ever, filled with businessmen, cigarette smoke, and super delicious lunch sets, I hope this dish will be the daily special as it was then. I'm never in luck, though. Now the cigarette smoke and slightly out-of-the-way location keep me away, but I still remember that mabodofu.

Sometime last week, I picked up a top quality cake of momendofu, or firm tofu, at Nishiki market on my way home. The day before, I'd finally gotten a small jar of tobanjan, a Chinese spicy paste made from soy beans and a little reminiscent of miso paste. In my kitchen, it easily came together for a quick dinner which few people could regret for its nutritional value and delicious flavors. Continue reading “Mabodofu”

Hummus with Pine Nuts on Homemade Pita

pita hummus sandwich

Perhaps I should re-title this blog Cooking with Chopsticks: A guide to cooking for one occasionally homesick foreigner in Japan. With a strange array of ingredients available at the grocery stores and markets and familiar ingredients only sold at out-of-the-way and over-priced import stores, the old favorites can be hard to find and unaffordable on a single income. But that is where the challenge begins.

In most import stores, perhaps the only thing I've found that's sold for reasonable prices are canned beans of kinds not found in the normal grocery store (which only carries azuki, large black beans, and white beans that might be white kidney beans). I would prefer dried beans that don't float in that strange liquid, but they're at least twice as expensive. Recently after being enticed by my friends' conversation about hummus, I bought some canned garbonzo beans at Meidi-ya on Shijo Ave.

The resulting hummus was most fulfilling, and since my former host mother is a marvel at bread-making, I asked her to make some pita bread to go along. Although I was nervous if this dish would appeal to the Japanese palate, it was a success! Even my host brother who dislikes beans gobbled up his pita dipped generously in hummus. Continue reading “Hummus with Pine Nuts on Homemade Pita”



Any guesses what this is? I’m not asking the Asians or the world travelers now. Having only eaten this plant from a can or cooked into a stir fry in the states and Europe, always in unrecognizable rectangular-shaped, thin slices, I never imagined it looked like this in real life. It’s a bamboo shoot. They’re in season now, and being a Kyoto specialty, Nishiki market’s shops have mounds and mounds of them for outrageous prices. Why the high prices? Because they are most tender and have to be dug up while still underground before they reach the sunlight in the early early morning, and bamboo can grow a meter in one day. I never thought I could afford one…

Until one fine day last week, I was walking through Nishiki market on my way home from work and I happened to see a small basket containing three at a small vegetable shop. The price tag said 525 yen, and I could hardly believe I could get even one much less three of them for that price. I incredulously had to reaffirm by asking the shopkeeper. Yes, they were 525 yen, and although they were a bit smaller than the giants at some other stores, they were being sold for less than half the normal price. I bought them without thinking twice and far from regretted it.

As I was packing my treasure away, the shopkeeper gave me a small bag of sawdust-like powder and gave me a bunch of instructions on keeping them for up to a week. Being far too ecstatic with my find, I hardly listened and didn’t ask him to explain again. Half way home my dream bubble burst and I panicked. How was I going to cook these things?!? Continue reading “Takenoko”