Working my way along my sweets haul, today I unwrapped 2 triangles. The dark brown on the left is hōjicha flavoured; roasted green tea. I am a huge hōjicha fan, it is deep and rich and a bit smoky. In my opinion, it’s the tea closest to coffee. It’s what I crave on cool rainy days or from the start of autumn. Not necessarily something I associate personally with summer but I do love it regardless, particularly in the minazuki.
The soft yellow one is ama natsu・甘夏 or natsu mikan・夏蜜柑 flavoured; sweet summer citrus. It was just tart and sweet enough to perk up my afternoon. A very good combination that balanced out surprisingly well!
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.
Mume, a 2 seat reservation-only cafe that books up seemingly instantly has been on my wishlist since I moved to Fukuoka. I check every month, and every month there is not a single space in the calendar. By some miracle, when I checked last week there was a single spot late afternoon in a few days.
It did not disappoint.
Faced with the decision of which dessert I wanted to order, I made the correct choice to get both.
The beautiful grey bowl is filled with matcha zenzai・抹茶ぜんざい, this interpretation includes vanilla ice cream, coarse red bean paste, chewy white mochi balls, matcha pudding with a slice of plum swimming on top of thick matcha. It was served with cool hōjicha (tea) and a lovely little biscuit. It was beyond incredible, it was sublime.
However, the monaka・モナカ was true evidence of the divine. Without exaggeration, it brought me to tears. I love monaka, little cutely-shaped wafers with bean paste, but this was unlike anything I’ve had before. Inside the perfect flower, there was smooth red bean paste, softened fermented butter, and dried figs. The texture combination was actual perfection, the taste combination was so simple but impeccably balanced. It was hard not to order 15 more, but that is one of my favourite parts of Japanese wagashi; the seasonality, the impermanence, how special in the moment they are.
Another adorable hydrangea wagashi from Kichi Zoh・吉蔵, this being one of the most fun to eat sweets I can remember. There is an iridescent soft jelly dome around smooth white bean paste. At the lightest touch, the dome collapses as the little individual petal cubes bounce down. It was as pretty deconstructed as it was before I started eating it.
Sakura season has peaked, making for far fewer crowds and a carpet of fallen petals. I couldn’t wait to get home to eat this other-wordly sakura ohagi from a new favourite Kumaya・熊屋. The base is sweet sticky rice with the most delicate and smooth blend of white bean and fragrant sakura paste glazed on top. I don’t usually get ohagi, they are often more lunch sized than snack sized but this was so amazing I couldn’t get over it; possible the best ohagi I have ever had.
Here are a few more sakura pictures near the castle ruins aka my snack spot (featuring some urban wildlife).
This is in Yusentei, the beautiful magical historical Japanese garden and tea house about a 10 minute walk from me. I never go here enough. picked up a sakura & white bean filled pastry and relaxed there for the afternoon. There was a wedding being photographed there, unsurprisingly because it is so beautiful but it was the first time I had seen it! You can get a bit more of a sense of the building with these pictures maybe.
I went to Kanodake・叶岳 last year for New Years and it was a really nice hike and its extremely accessible by public transit so it was a good candidate for the first hike in a while.
I took a different trail entrance and got up the the main shrine really quickly. The last time I was here there was snow everywhere and I ate cold salad and cold hard-boiled eggs and the next day I bought a camping stove.
Because its so accessible, you can get some nice city views. Admittedly, not my favourite type of view compared to ocean or mountain range but, hey, variety is nice.
It’s that time of year when it’s no longer wintery cold but not too much is blooming yet either. Which is great, not too hot or cold or too many people around ( I saw 5 people). Took a little coffee and snack break before getting a few little peaks in.
The earlier part of the day was overcast but the sun came out when I got to my final summit. A lot of the mountains in Itoshima have these 山ナビ Box・Mountain Navigation Box that have little wooden tokens with the summit info on them for free and some maps. I got mine last time I was here so I will save them for future hikers.
Every time I’m out hiking I seem to find these massive abandoned structures and facilities from sometime ago when it used to be a popular area for something or other. I’m not super certain what these buildings were for but it was a beautiful area.
The way back to the station was lovely, and as always there were vegetable stands and flowers and it’s nice to look back on what you’ve just hiked. Also, I almost never get these hot canned soups from the vending machines (which are everywhere) but this corn potage really hit the spot.
If I’m being completely honest, I came to this area because I wanted to come get this taiyaki sweet from Nippon Ichi Taiyaki. Typically I get the sweet potato filling but their farmer was out so I got the white bean paste instead and it was so good. It was just so good, I ate it as slowly as possible to really savour it. Taiyaki is typically red bean paste or custard filled so its great to try new flavours. Perfect end to the hike.
A little variation from the norm: swapped matcha for hōjicha, a roasted green tea that’s great in cold weather and a very elaborate dessert: brown rice mochi balls, caramelized sweet potato, ginger syrup over ice cream with a cracker. I love this cafe in Ohori park and come here often to work but its a stunning stroll too.
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.
I pickup up this castella in Nagasaki when I was there a little while ago. It was nice and dense but not too sweet. Castella is very popular all around Japan but it most famous in Nagasaki. It obviously has Portuguese influence and is not what come to mind when you think of wagashi. I also re-stocked my favourite matcha, but I might have to switch to iced matchas pretty soon.