The Art Of Wagashi

SALT Magazine - - On The Global Table - TEXT KYOKO NAKAYAMA

Tra­di­tional Ja­panese sweets are tak­ing a turn for

moder­nity with new cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

ow in Ja­pan, chrysan­the­mums are in sea­son,” said Hiro­mori Uchida, the chef from wagashi (tra­di­tional Ja­panese sweets) pur­veyor Ganyu­u­dou as he care­fully lay­ered dif­fer­ent coloured bean pastes atop each other. He shaped the lay­ers of sweet bean paste into a ball, then, us­ing a sharp and del­i­cate pair of Ja­panese scis­sors, snipped away at the ball un­til it turned into the shape of a beau­ti­ful chrysan­the­mum flower. Wagashi is not just dessert, it is a form of art as de­mostrated by the 46-year-old Uchida who was in town as part of the Yokan Col­lec­tion ex­hi­bi­tion held at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Sin­ga­pore.

Af­ter its Parisian pre­miere in 2016, the Yokan Col­lec­tion de­buted in Sin­ga­pore over the week­end of 28 Oc­to­ber 2017, bring­ing to­gether more than 15 ven­dors of renowned wagashi mak­ers and pro­duc­ers from dif­fer­ent re­gions of Ja­pan to show­case the craft be­hind wagashi- mak­ing. Through a cu­rated ex­hi­bi­tion, guests not only had the op­por­tu­nity to learn about yokan’s long his­tory and sig­nif­i­cance in Ja­panese cul­ture, they also got to sam­ple them.

Yokan is among the old­est style of wagashi. The jel­lied con­fec­tion of red or white beans, sugar, and agar, usu­ally comes in blocks of beau­ti­ful pat­terns and de­signs, and are eaten in bite-sized slices. Yokan was orig­i­nally a Chi­nese dish made us­ing gelatin de­rived from boil­ing mut­ton broth. When it was in­tro­duced to Ja­pan, vege­tar­ian monks used wheat flour and azuki red beans to re­place the meat, and steamed the yokan into shape. This orig­i­nal yokan is called mushi yokan, or steamed yokan. But when agar was dis­cov­ered in the mid-17th to 18th cen­tury, neri yokan (or sim­ply yokan in gen­eral) be­came the norm. There is also mizu yokan, which con­tains higher wa­ter con­tent and is less heavy, hence it is usu­ally en­joyed dur­ing sum­mer.

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