Today I met a friend for lunch at Mifune in Japantown, and after my meal of tempura udon needed something sweet. There's a new cupcake shop in the center that I passed earlier on my way to Kinokuniya Bookstore, but I consider it a travesty to crave sweets in Japantown and not pay a visit to Benkyodo Co. This business opened over a century ago, surviving the WWII internment camps and the slow erosion of Japanese-owned businesses in and around Japantown. Its main attraction is manju -- sweet, pounded rice cakes often filled with sweet bean paste and traditionally served with tea. My parents began bringing me here when I was very young, and I have been manju-crazy ever since.
Despite the end-of-days monsoon we are experiencing here in San Francisco, it is spring -- technically -- so I was delighted to see sakuramochi! Pretty in pink, this little cake is a perfect representation of blooming cherry blossoms and will always remind me of our trip to Japan last year. Spring was particularly cold there, so despite arriving in Kyoto in late March, we had a very difficult time finding sakura in bloom around the city. When we finally came across one in Maruyama Park one drizzly afternoon, it was as though nature celebrated with us because the sun burst out from behind the clouds! Suddenly, I understood why these magnificent trees are such a national treasure. I imagine that this year's emerging sakura flowers must give many Japanese hope in light of the horrible events of the past few weeks.
Today I painstakingly selected a few different kinds of manju and mochi, and just as I walked out of the shop with my purchases, the sun very fittingly crept out from behind the fog. To see descriptions of what I bought, read on.