Cupcakes, cookies, French macarons.
For unique sweet treats that will truly surprise and tantalize, step inside Minamoto Kitchoan, a Japanese confectionery store in downtown San Francisco.
The stores specialize in wagashi, which are handmade, intricate sweets made with mochi, azuki red bean paste and fruit. Traditionally, they were designed to be served during Japanese tea ceremonies. With their sweet flavor, they are the ideal accompaniment to a cup of hot, fragrant green tea. Minamoto Kitchoan receives one to two shipments each month from Japan. The wagashi are shipped frozen in a state-of-the-art process that renders them much colder than they'd get in any home freezer, yet doesn't impair their delicacy.
Although some offerings are available year-round, the store also changes its selections with the seasons and the holidays. The sweets are individually wrapped and sell for $2 on up, depending upon the variety. One of my favorites is only available through June: kashiwamochi, in which a real oak leaf envelopes a white ball of sticky, pounded rice with a center of creamy, sweet bean paste. Unwrap it and inhale the fragrance of the forest.
Earlier this year, I also indulged in an amazing soft, wiggly cherry jelly that encased a whole, real cherry. It was like a tiny work of art.
On Market Street in San Francisco, this store is a short stroll from the Palace Hotel. It opened late last year and already has attracted crowds, both Asian and non-Asian. Indeed, the store manager there told me that a lot of customers are tourists from other states and countries, unable to resist these unique confections as souvenirs to tote home.
They make for great hostess gifts. You won't be able to resist bringing home a few for yourself, either.
-- Carolyn Jung of FoodGal
[Photo credit: Carolyn Jung]