A couple of the added benefits of my Japanese sweets enthusiasm are seeing new or different parts of the city and lots of walking. I have walked to nearly every place, with some exceptions for picking up things while I’m out and the odd day during the rainy season. Even though it was over 30 degrees and over 75% humidity, I woke up and knew I needed to have zenzai: a hot, sweet red bean soup with toasted mochi.
Nakasu Zenzai・中洲ぜんざい is an old-school cafe overlooking the canals in the north of the city. Their zenzai is served with cool hōjicha and a side of salty, soy sauce-thick seaweed to balance out the sweet. There’s obviously a reason this place has out-lasted so many others, and in such prime real estate. It was incredible, chewy and dense and delicious. Not exactly the lightest meal but hey, the heart wants what it wants. Also a lovely excuse to check out a part of the city that I’m not usually in.
I had thought maybe since this was my second summer in Fukuoka I wouldn’t be as excited for Hakata minazuki・博多水無月. Incorrect! Better than Christmas. Minazuki is both the word for June in the old Japanese calendar and a sweet eaten in the same month. Hakata minazuki is a regional (Fukuoka city) take on the traditional delicacy. It is surprisingly recent and most shops involved have an individual spin on it. One of my locals, Rabbit Moon, has a beautiful, incredible salted caramel version. Last year, I walked to almost all of the 20 places that offer them (furthest was a 2 hour walk- worth it). So far there is only 1 I haven’t tried.
Anyway! At Rabbit Moon there was a flyer saying a whole bunch of the Hakata minazuki purveyors would gather in one of the fancy department stores in the city centre. I found zero information online. I refreshed the department store website daily. I took a chance and went on the opening day. I saw the beautiful white and blue flag bearing the name of the sweet and was embarrassingly happy.
I wanted to shake other shoppers’ shoulders; doesn’t everyone understand how special these are? I filled up my bamboo basket with treats and the woman working the stand asked me if it was my first time trying them. I admitted that it was not and we chatted about the new flavours and our favourites. The next youngest person there after me was at least 2 decades my senior.
The first one I had getting home was the kinako Hakata minazuki, all toasty and sweet and nutty. What a great day. I love unwrapping the bamboo leaves, I love the seasonality, I love the creativity. Can’t wait to eat them all.
New to me, though founded in 1850 in Saga prefecture, Ohara・大原 is adorable with the kindest staff and fun new treats. In the middle are a red bean and white bean sweet with a texture someone close to marzipan with a gritty sweetness. The white and pink one was soft and doughier with a sakura jelly feel to the pink petals. It was really a lovely store and I can’t wait to return.
My heart skipped a beat when I saw this at Kichi-Zoh today. For one reason, it’s an adorable forest mushroom with white mean paste and whole adzuki beans. Two, this was actually the first wagashi I tried in Fukuoka last year, before I started writing in here. I’m coming up on a year in Fukuoka, which is unbelievable, but not more so than realizing you measure the passing of time in seasonal sweets.
The first sunny weekend in August! Here we go, off to the north where I read about a hike that ends at a beach. Here is the first mini mountain range I will climb, its only about 300m high. On the way up I pass through temples and chestnuts.
I was a little worried it would be too hot but it was much, much cooler once I got up a bit. Unsurprisingly, the path was very beautiful and not too bad after the rain we’ve had.
There’s walking sticks, a tiny river and some awfully cute views from the top of Mt. Yugawa・湯川山! I was hoping for a few more views but maybe I need to explore around more.
On the way down I passed though some farms and abandoned cafes. No one reading this will be shocked, but I also found an amazing sweets shop on the way to the shrine at the peak of the cape. The picture taken from the top of the stairs shows the mountain I just came down from.
This is the funniest structure I have ever seen in Japan. Well, I’m happy someone built it so I could see the ocean. I was almost 6 hours into the hike, mid-day at 35 degrees and I was a little tired and evidently too tired to take a single photo of the ocean from up there!
But don’t worry, here’s the snack I got: chilled strawberry warabi mochi. It was the best thing I have ever eaten in my life (it was the first cool thing I had consumed in many hours).
Finally! I made it to the beach. For the first time this summer I kicked off my shoes and went swimming in the ocean. Hard to beat. When I finally got out and made my way over to the bus I met these funny veggies sun-bathing on the street. I might come back next weekend, it was a lovely, easy hike with the perfect ending (and snacks).
There are a few summer holidays in July so a few friends and I escaped north of the city to Kitakyushu. Just east of there is a place I’ve had my eye on for ages: Hiraodai. It isn’t so mountainous but is more gorgeous rolling green hills and beautiful views. This group is a big on sunrises so we started our day around 3:30am and were not disappointed. I could not get enough of the morning light.
It was just like out of a dream. On the way to the summit it was a little cloudy but cleared up beautifully later in the hike.
Sometimes (every time) sunrise hikes are a bit challenging but they are so worth it. I wouldn’t be supr keen to try an 8 hour hike on so little sleep but its a great time to do smaller, less physical hikes; especially in the summer heat.
The grass was really up to my waist at some points! It was a lot of fun to go around and play around in.
Believe it or not, I did manage to find some sweets. Matcha kakigōri・かき氷 and anmitsu・あんみつ at a really old school style shop and they were beyond heaven.
A little different from my usual vibe, but a wonderful place I really enjoy going to is Bread & Cafe. It’s a great place to bring your laptop and work but even better for bread and design.
This thick sliced toast with textured red bean paste and a healthy pad of butter is a classic Nagoya snack and is one of my all time favourite foods. The bread, called shoku pan・食パン was fluffy and perfect and the azuki beans were jammy and rich. Impossible not to love it.
The Shigoto Musubi Omamori is a little spool of thread and the color of the thread and the manner that its knotted has different meanings. Overall, they help you through your work, daily tasks and livelihood. I have only seen them in Fukuoka, and I think they are quite popular from Kamado shrine in Dazaifu but I could be mistaken.
Either way is was a lovely little sweet! It definitely helped with my work tasks today.
I got this classic version of a Hakata minazuki from Takoshōgetsu・鮹松月, the name literally translates to ‘Octopus Tree Moon’. It’s located in the city centre on the same old street I got the matcha minazuki from, the little wet market street with little shops. Before I lived here when I came to Fukuoka to visit I actually bought my New Years (Kagami) mochi from them. They do all of the classics very well and I will definitely come back to try their namagashi, it looked so beautiful.