Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean Porridge 汁粉
Shiruko is a hot, sweet soup-like dessert flavored with azuki beans and mochi that is very popular in Japan. It can be found on the menus of traditional style tea houses. I was given an elegant set of 5 shiruko in packages on the theme of the Daimonji. Daimonji is an event unique to Kyoto in which huge Chinese characters and pictograms bonfires are burned on the mountainsides of Kyoto in late August. Each serving of shiruko in this set is in an edible toasted mochi package that melts when hot water is poured on it. Each mochi package is branded with one of the 5 bonfire symbols.
Shiruko usually is a thick and sweet soupy paste of boiled and crushed azuki beans and is often garnished with mochi and candied chestnuts. This is a Kyoto-style shiruko is a bit more refined. Each serving is a sealed, toasted, seared and branded envelop made from mochi flour, this cracker-like shell is called monaka in Japanese. The azuki beans are finely powdered and mixed with sugar and potato starch. To prepare you simply break apart the package in a bowl and pour on boiling water. After a minute or so it is ready to slurp or spoon. The monaka mochi envelop is of course edible as well. It has an earthy, toasted rice taste and is pleasantly gooey and spongy after soaking.
Kyogozan Shiruko Package
The Chinese characters; 京 (Kyoto), 五 (five), 山 (mountain) are read as Kyogozan in Japanese. These are the five mountains around the city where the bonfires are burned.
Kyogozan Shiruko Package Opened
This is a bit over-packaged but not too bad by Japanese standards. (I took out some bubble wrap for this photo.) The paper explains about the Kyogozan. Of course everyone that can afford to shop for this kind of wagashi knows the history. There are also beautifully printed preparation instructions.
This is the largest of the characters. ‘大’ means ‘great’.
Daimonji: A festival like non other in the entire world! Daimonji, literally means ‘great (big) character’. On a mid-August night massive bonfires are burned on 5 mountainsides surrounding Kyoto in the form of Chinese characters and pictograms to guide the visiting spirits back to the other world.
The Five Mountains
大 Daimonji This character means ‘great’ and is the ironic character of the custom.
妙 法 Myo Ho These two characters refer to the teachings of Buddhism and are a part of a mantra.
Funagata Funagata is a pictogram of a boat.
大 Hidari Daimonji Hidari Daimonji literally means ‘left’ daimonji, it is far smaller and on a hill in the west of the city.
Toriigata Toriigata is a pictogram of the torii gate that marks the enterence to a Shinto shrine.
(quoted from this KyotoFoodie article)
Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Dai (大) Character
Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Myo Ho (妙 法) Characters
Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Funa (boat) Pictogram
Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – ‘Left’ Dai (大) Character
This dai is smaller than the first.
Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Torii (Shinto Shrine Gate) Pictogram
Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Break
Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Pour
Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Stir and Wait
Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Slurp
Most people would use a spoon.
How Did it Taste?
It tasted very good. I was surprised how much I liked the soft and spongy toasted monaka package. I really like how that ‘package’ is eaten, and not just eaten, it adds an essential flavor to the overall balance and complexity.
The ingredients are simply: mochi rice, azuki bean, sugar, potato starch and salt. The elegance of the taste comes from the selection of the ingredients, preparation and presentation. That is what makes Kyoto ‘different’, or so we say.
Who Makes This Wagashi?
This wagashi is made by Suetomi. We featured them in this article last year about namagashi for the tea ceremony and while their wagashi tastes just fine, their haughty attitude leaves me with a yucky taste in my mouth. But it is not like I am not grateful, thanks to cold, stuck-up, pretentious phonies like Suetomi, I was inspired to start my new project: OpenKyoto. You can read about my frustrations at ‘Trying to Open Kyoto‘ here. Please cheer me on! (I need it.)
Daimonji Gozan-no-Okuribi Viewing Party and Torii ‘Gate’ Bonfire
I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a Gozan-no-Okuribi viewing party in Sagano, the still somewhat rural western edge of the city. This area has the torii shrine gate which cannot really be seen from central Kyoto anymore. This year was the first year that I had seen it up close. The hosts kindly sent each of us off with a box of this wonderful shiruko . Read this article on OpenKyoto for more.
Torii Bonfire and Floating Lanterns on Hirosawa Pond