Fluffy Red Bean Donuts at a Japanese Bakery

That’s right. We’re talking about sweet red bean paste again today…What can I say? It’s one of the best things in Japanese cuisine!

I made a post a little while back on a real old fashioned red bean donut that I bought from a traditional sweet shop in Mito. The shop has been around for over half a century, and a fellow blogger pointed out to me that they even have a handwritten sign in the window saying that they are rumoured to be the best red bean donuts in the city. These traditional style treats were made with a thick cake batter, making the donut dense and incredibly rich in flavor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

For the sake of comparison (that’s my excuse), I went to a modern upscale bakery and tried out their version of the red bean donut. Instead of using cake batter, they went with a sweet bread dough which they then deep fried and sprinkled with sugar. From what I’ve seen, this style of red bean donut seems to be more common nowadays. It’s a lot bigger and fluffier and tastes quite different, but it’s still awesome in its own way. If any of you have ever tried these different versions of the red bean donut, I’d love to hear what you think. Which do you like better?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After refueling at the bakery, I walked a few kilometers out to the famous and historical Kairakuen Park. It’s known as one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, and it’s absolutely massive. There are gift shops and resting areas at the entrance, and once you enter the park there are many walking paths that take you through bamboo forests and a huge grove of plum trees.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Advertisements

An Ocean of Blue Flowers at Kaihin Park

On the last day of the Golden Week holiday, I made a visit out to Kaihin Park. At the train station, I bought a pass for 1,100 yen (about $11) which covered a short train ride, and then from there a bus that took us another five minutes out to the park itself. The ticket also of course covered the entrance fee, so overall not a bad deal!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The park was absolutely massive. There was actually a bike rental right by the entrance because it would take all day to explore the whole area on foot. Basically, Kaihin Park has a special ground for any outdoor sport or activity that you can think of. Climbing, baseball, BMX, Frisbee, barbeques, cycling, hiking…you name it. There’s even a full on amusement park with a roller coaster and tons of other rides! There are multiple food stand areas and restaurants scattered throughout Kaihin Park as well, depending on whether you just want a quick treat, or a proper dining experience. I’ve never seen anything like it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The main attraction at this time of year is the Nemophila flowers, which I hear are often called “baby blue eyes”. There are sprawling hills absolutely covered in these gorgeous little blue flowers. I went there right at the end of the season so there was a lot of green grass mixed in with the blue of the flowers, but at peak bloom, the hills are basically covered in a solid blue ocean of Nemophila. Apparently, they grow something like 4.5 million of them each spring. It’s quite a sight!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As I was walking down the hills, I came across an old historical farmhouse and was lucky enough to catch a traditional storytelling session. The audience was seated around a big fire pit in the middle of the floor while a lady told story after story in an authentic Fukushima dialect. Storytelling has been a huge part of Japanese culture for hundreds if not thousands of years, and it’s something that I’ve always been interested in experiencing firsthand. So, this was one of the highlights of the day for me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Traditional Red Bean Donut in a Bamboo Park

The other day, I made a post about this beautiful park surrounded by a bamboo forest that I had visited one weekend.  This Sunday, I decided to make another trip out there to see what things looked like now that we’re at the end of May. The reeds that had been short little stems were now a couple meters tall, and the irises were all in full bloom! The uguisu (Japanese bush warblers) had since moved on, so the sounds of the birds were entirely different as well. It was pretty awesome to see how the exact same location could transform so quickly in just a few weeks!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last time I was there it was cold jacket weather, but this Sunday it was pushing around 27 degrees Celsius. Perfect beer weather! Here in Japan, it’s totally legal to drink outside, so as I walked up to the park I stopped in at a convenience store to buy a can of lager. I also went to a little old shop that was selling traditional Japanese sweets and packed lunches.

I love that the food on display in the window just happened to all be vegan! They had inari sushi (pouches of sweet fried tofu filled with rice) topped with pickled pink ginger. There were various maki rolls with white rice and pickled vegetables, rolled in a sheet of nori. There was sekihan (sticky rice steamed with red beans, giving the rice a gorgeous pink color). And, there were of course the traditional onigiri (large rice balls) with an umeboshi (pickled plum) in the centre.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As usual though, I was all about the sweets. They had an assortment of dango (pounded rice rolled into little balls and lined up on a skewer) with various traditional toppings. They also had two types of kashiwa mochi (gooey rice cakes filled with sweet red bean jam, and wrapped in an oak leaf). And then, there was the thing I really had my eye on…red bean donuts!

These were the real old school traditional red bean donuts, just the way they used to make them back in the 50’s and 60’s. There are a lot of varieties nowadays, but these ones were made with a good thick cake batter filled with homemade red bean jam, and rolled in sugar.  Perfection.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I took my donut and can of cold beer up to the park and sat in the shade in a little pagoda, listening to the birds around me. And when I say listening to the birds…I really mean it. It wasn’t just the occasional chirp here and there. They were super active and seemed to be having a great time feasting on these little red berries in the tree beside me. There were also a couple huge ravens loudly swooshing around in the sky, calling out in their gurgly voices. The park was so alive. It was fantastic!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gorgeous Flower Garden in Japan

While I was in Hitachi (the same place with that amazing retro amusement park that I posted about earlier), I stumbled across this gorgeous flower patch. It was right up on the top of a hill overlooking miles and miles of city below. I’m not normally into flowers, but for some reason these ones had me enthralled. I hope you enjoy looking at these flowers as much as I did!

And, since I don’t want to make two posts in a row without any food pics (because that’s what this blog is all about right?!)…I’m also throwing in a photo of my dinner at the end. I managed to make the long trek out to a Costco the other day and I was ecstatic when I found tortillas there, which are otherwise pretty hard to get a hold of here in Japan. I bought some beans and threw together a homemade salsa for some amazing burritos!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ancient Dance Performance at the Imperial Palace!

On Sunday, I took the long trip out to Tokyo to attend a gagaku performance at the Japanese imperial palace! Gagaku is an ancient imperial court music and dance form that has been performed in Japan for about a thousand and five-hundred years. I was incredibly lucky and honoured to have such a rare opportunity. I worked briefly at a major Shinto shrine last New Year’s (which in itself was an unbelievable honour), but when the chief priest of the shrine got an invitation to the gagaku performance this month, he was amazing enough to gift me one of the tickets!

I haven’t been to Tokyo in many months, and it felt like such a tremendously urban and glamorous city, especially after staying in this little town for so long. The difference was even more noticeable because I was specifically in the Ginza district which is famous for being the most posh, impressive, and high-end region of Tokyo.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got to the city pretty early in the morning so I headed over to a nearby shrine while waiting for the performance to start. After paying my respects at the shrine, I wandered through an antique market that had been set up for the day just outside the shrine. I also spent a bit of time at a museum that was displaying old documents from the fifteen and sixteen hundreds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I got pretty hungry as I walked around, but a lot of restaurants were closed that morning. After a while, I was lucky enough to find a place where I could get a late breakfast of udon noodles. It was incredibly cheap, too, at just 150 yen which is around $1.50! I enjoyed the noodles topped with a whole bunch of shichimi (a Japanese spice mixture) while my friend had a bowl of Japanese curry and rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

No one was allowed to take photos of the actual gagaku performance, but we could take pictures of the stage before the show started. I also took some shots of the people setting up the instruments in preparation for the musicians. The actual performance was hauntingly beautiful. There’s something about gagaku and noh that is other-worldly…it really does transport you back well over a thousand years to an entirely different time and place. I can’t even begin to describe how enchanting it was!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Local, Organic Japanese Fruits and Veggies

I’m in Japan! Things have fallen silent on my blog recently as I settle into my new surroundings, but from now on I hope to keep you guys up to date on everything that’s been going on over here.

I am staying in Tokaimura, Ibaraki prefecture for the next month. This place is all about sweet potatoes. There are so many sweet potato vendors and growers all over the city. Each time you walk by one you can smell them roasting, and the air is filled with this incredibly rich, smoky aroma.

These guys right here. These…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

These are what’s guilty for my endlessly growling stomach ever since I arrived in Tokaimura. There are so many different varieties growing here, but the ones you see in this photo are my favorite so far. They call them Beni Haruka. They’re purple on the outside, and inside they are a rich yellow, with an almost vanilla-like flavour. They are unreal.

If you like sweet potatoes, or basically any fresh vegetables and fruits, this place is paradise! It’s almost the middle of December, and still there are persimmons, passion fruit, lemons, oranges, kiwis, guavas, and all sorts of veggies growing all over the place.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It has been such a luxury to have an endless supply of fresh, organic produce. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Many of the people who live here have their own gardens or fields, and are so generous with whatever they grow. In the short time that I have been here, I have been lucky enough to receive boxes and boxes of locally grown goodies, including various types of radishes, cabbages, squashes, and carrots that were very kindly brought over by the neighbors.

For example, check out this massive daikon radish that was just given to the family I’m staying with. It weighs something around three or four kilograms. Yup, just another run of the mill day in Tokaimura. I want to live here for ever and ever.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Super Easy Apple Pecan Crumble (vegan)

I went out into the garden and picked a basket full of apples to make this really simple and healthy apple crumble. The variety of apples that we have growing on the tree is called Transparent, and they are absolutely perfect for cooking. Just a little bit of heat applied for a even short time will turn the skin soft so you don’t need to peel them at all. If you want to make apple sauce (which I often do!), just heat it a bit longer, mix everything with a spoon, and the apples pretty much puree themselves!

apple crumble2

To start with, I sliced up about twelve apples and arranged them in a pie dish. For the crumble topping, I took some rolled oats, pecans, brown sugar, a bit of flour and just a touch of room temperature vegan butter, and mixed this all together very thoroughly. Sprinkle this over the apples and that’s pretty much all there is to it! You can either bake this in the oven, or what I usually do is just pop it in the microwave for just over ten minutes until the apples are soft. The crumble tastes incredible served with soy milk custard or some coconut ice cream.

apple crumble