Hakata Minazuki・博多水無月: Tea & Citrus

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!

A Magical Time: June, or Minazuki season

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.

Field Trip: Kuromojiya・黒文字や

Kuromojiya・黒文字や is a very old school cafe near me. How old school? You can still smoke inside. I used to come here for lunch with a friend fairly often but I came with a single goal in mind: dessert.

I got the kuromitsu kinako parfait・黒蜜きな粉パフェ, or black sugar syrup & toasted soybean flour parfait. If asked to describe my dream parfait, I’m not sure what else I could have included.

From left to right:

sweet red beans, shirotama (mochi balls), banana, black sesame ice cream, strawberries, waffle, kinako ice cream, black sugar syrup, kinako warabi mochi.

I love this place so much, its such a perfect, classic hidden gem.

Field Trip: Mume

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.

Hydrangeas: Volume 2

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.

Cake Day

A little baked sweet called カスポール・Caspole from Kumaya. The inside was soft and fluffy with a sugary crunch on the exterior. This one is influenced by when the Portuguese came to Japan 400 years ago. Nagasaki is famous for castella cakes, also of Portuguese influence and this sweet reminded me a lot of castella.

Adrenaline

Nothing fills my heart and soul with a greater rush of emotion that finding a new sweet shop and asking questions to the staff about every single one of their products. It’s wonderful, it’s fun (for everyone I hope) and I learn so much. Enter Kuyama・熊屋 a shop from Nagasaki, with the nicest staff and really unique sweets. On top is a brown sugar mochi and the shiny pink ball is a strawberry jelly case around a cream and white bean paste interior. I went late in the afternoon when there was only a little left in terms of selection or room in my stomach. I will go back next week without fail.

Field Trip: Shirouzu Coffee

I spend too many hours with my spine doing its best impression of a shrimp, hunched over my laptop. Shirouzu Coffee is one of the places I do that the most frequently outside of my apartment. The coffee is always good and the seasonal menu items are as delicious as they are fit for instagram. I got an amou (local variety) strawberry ice cream sandwich for lunch. It was a great computer break because it really required both hands but it was also some of the most beautiful ice cream I have ever had.

Lazy Mornings

I changed things up a bit today and had my matcha set for breakfast! Like a rebel, or an impatient child. Yesterday I went to Tugi, one of my all time Fukuoka favourites and I got this yuzu yōkan (gellied white bean paste) that is sitting pretty on a candied yuzu peel. It goes without saying, this will, without question, be the best thing I eat today. It was just heaven, every time I go to Tugi I remember I need to come back more often.