Actually, according to my research (a very thorough Google search) the Japanese don’t say “I love you” all that often. A strong “I like you” is generally sufficient.
In any case, you may have heard that today is Valentine’s Day. Personally I don’t enjoy the forced romance of February 14th, the pressure to do something special on one particular day.
What I do enjoy is finding the right gift for someone, any day of the year.
My Valentine and I have enjoyed many Japanese meals together over the past few months. For Christmas we each put chopsticks and soup spoons in the other’s stocking. When I walked by Minamoto Kitchoan the other day, bells started ringing in my head, or perhaps a giant gong was struck: I had found the perfect V-Day present.
Minamoto Kitchoan makes Wagashi, or traditional Japanese confections, typically made from beans, rice, sesame, sweet potato, and sugar. It is an ancient art form, developed over centuries. What fascinates me about Wagashi is that although it is a natural product, and although many of the exquisite designs are either evocative of nature or directly mimic some natural form, much of it looks utterly artificial, with its jewel box colors and perfect edges and curves. There is a particular Japanese minimalism in the designs and yet they also seem so intricate. It seems very serious and yet very playful. These are unusual, and unusually beautiful treats.
Right now, for Valentine’s Day, the store is filled with pink.
These are called Suikanshuku. I think they look like geodes:
These perfectly smooth, clear domes with a single cherry blossom floating at the top are called Sakurajelly:
The Sakuranbo might be my favorite, with the stem of single sweet cherry sticking out of a molded peach jelly:
I bought a few of these crinkly vanilla cookies for the road:
I’ve officially added them to my list of guilty pleasures. Why guilty? Because they are packed with shortening. Don’t tell Mayor Bloomberg.
Minamoto Kitchoan is worth a visit anytime, even if just for a look. But if bean paste and agar agar confections aren’t to your taste, don’t worry: La Maison du Chocolat has a store on the same block.
Minamoto Kitchoan 608 5th Ave. (Entrance is on 49th St.), New York, 212 489 3747, website