Thursday, May 20, 2010

'What The Hell' Daifuku

I do enjoy a good list, and recently I have started making a mental one of the things I will miss when I leave Japan. Oh, and when I say "things" what I really mean is "foods."

Over the past seven months I have developed quite a fond relationship with a little sweet called daifuku. But the relationship quickly turned from fond to addictive. A day without a daifuku was not a day I wanted to live. Every lunch break or walk home from work, I found myself magnetically drawn to the glowing light of the convenience store, desperate to get my mochi fix. These little treats come in all sorts of varieties, stuffed with a strawberry or studded with black beans, but the standard is deliciously simple: the softest little smush of a mochi ball stuffed with sweet adzuki bean paste. My favorite daifuku come three to a bag at Lawson's and only cost 100yen. My BFIJ and I call them "baby's butt mochi" and they usually made their way into our evening tea, salty snack, beer and bullshit (not necessarily in that order) routine. That is, until I faced my addiction head on and went cold turkey. Actually, it was more of an overall convenience store food ban, but that's for another day and another blog post. Having battled The Great Sour Cream Addiction of 2004 I knew I could gain control over the daifuku and eventually learn to appreciate my favorite treat in small doses.

But just as I had settled into my new daifuku-less life, there it was. In my Rough Guide Japan. The ultimate daifuku. Yoko and I were still in the planning stages for our Golden Week trip to Kyushu, and I was researching places we might visit. After reading the following sentence it became absolutely clear, and essential, to both of us that we visit the city of Miyazaki:

Try their Nanjya-kora Daifuku - a chilled package of soft white rice flour, filled with red bean paste, a strawberry, a chestnut and cream cheese; it's absolutely divine. 

Holy. Jesus. Daifuku. Fuck. I had found the turducken of daifuku.

This was a daifuku of epic proportions. I began to ask around. "Have you heard of this daifuku?" I asked my students and coworkers, but no one knew a thing. That's the beauty of Japanese travel + food love: every city has it's own little culinary specialty that can't often be found anywhere else. Finally I laid the question on my head-teacher, Hisano. She started laughing. "Nanja-kora daifuku? That's what it's called? That pretty much translates to 'what the hell?' daifuku!"  This only added to the excitement. Yoko and I justified the side trip to Miyazaki by penciling in a visit to "one of the world's largest planetariums" and I proceeded to talk about What The Hell Daifuku for the next two months. Most of the conversations went like this:

Me: "Only 36 more days until What The Hell Daifuku! Oh, I'm so excited! Yay!"
Other person:  "Um..." *continues to stare out the bus window or organize a lesson plan*

Finally the day arrived. We got off the train in Miyazaki, marched straight to the planetarium, and were greeted with a dark building and a grim "closed" sign. Luckily Miyazaki turned out to be a beautiful city, the sunniest in Japan (according to the Rough Guide), lined with palm trees, dotted with uncharacteristically lovely Japanese modern architecture and contained both a beautiful little tropical island and a Mexican restaurant. Things were looking up.

Determined not to miss out on the main attraction, we headed for Hidaka cake shop, which turned out to be the only shop in the city selling the fantastical daifuku. Yoko talked me out of ordering three. We each ordered a single daifuku and watched as the shop girls spent several minutes carefully, and individually, wrapping each one. There was a special little box, a small ice pack, and finally a bag. There might have been bubble wrap. This was obviously as special as I had imagined.

We took our packages to a botanical garden and unwrapped. There stood two of the biggest daifuku I had ever seen. They were absolutely pregnant with strawberry, chestnut, cream cheese and adzuki bean paste. We started to eat, trying to get the perfect bite containing all four elements. We mostly ended up with a lot of white powder all over our faces. Yoko was fairly unmoved. I was quite pleased, mostly with the novelty, partly with the daifuku goal being achieved, and also with that soft little chestnut.

It was my first, and probably my last, What The Hell Daifuku. Maybe I should have gotten two. 

(photo credit: the first strawberry daifuku photo was stolen from a blog called Hunger Hunger)

Here are some photos from our day in Miyazaki, more specifically, from our time spent in Aoshima.

 The gates to enter Aoshima
 Yoko, my BFIJ, in front of the island. It only takes 15 minutes to circle.
 The single torii gate of Aoshima
 The island walkway at dusk