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A sweet taste of Japan

HAKATA Amaou Marugoto Strawberry Daifuku and Koshian Black Bean Paste

SORRY, ladies. In Japan, apparently, during Valentine’s Day, it’s the women who give gifts to the men.

“It’s different from the world standard. In the Philippines, men give confectionery or something to women. In Japan, it has been a day for women to present something to men to express their feelings,” said Sudo Makoto, Director at Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) at the sidelines of a press conference for the Nukumori Valentine’s Fair opening at the Mitsukoshi Mall on Feb. 1.

There are some sweet choices at the Nukumori Valentine’s Fair (“nukumori” translates to “warmth”) one can give as gifts this Valentine’s Day. The fair runs from Feb. 1 to Feb. 14 at the Mitsukoshi Mall BGC Events Space in BGC, Taguig.

While we had sashimi and several meat skewers all washed down with sake during the press conference, we also got to sample some of the sweet treats that will be offered during the fair. Aside from the several booths selling specially packaged Pocky, there are at least three desserts that will come to our shores for the first time.

Baumkuchen of Sanporoku, a sort of pastry covered in chocolate, derives from a German dessert which resembles rings in trees (baumkuchen means “tree cake” or “log cake” in German). This Japanese version calls to mind the bark of birch trees with the swirled patterns on the chocolate coating. This uses ingredients from Japan like sugar, Tokachi flour, eggs, and butter. Mr. Makoto pronounces this a personal favorite.

Liquor was also on the menu, and we particularly liked Higashi Sake Brewery’s Little Kiss Black Tea Shochu. It uses Benifuuki black tea leaves from Tokunoshima in Kagoshima Prefecture soaked in Kome Shochu — a distilled beverage slightly stronger than sake.

Next came the Hakata Amaou Marugoto Strawberry Daifuku — a single strawberry enveloped in either black or white bean paste, then encased in mochi (a sort of rice cake that is used to wrap usually sweet food). Finally, they also let us taste Wakasaya Honpo’s Raisin Cream Sandwich and Hokkaido Butter Rich Cookies, made with dairy from Hokkaido.

Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest island, is known around the world for the distinctive flavor of its milk, which passes on to products like cheese and butter. Mr. Makoto is a Hokkaido native, and he’s glad to describe the place as a way to explain their products. “You can taste the air in Hokkaido,” he said in an interview.

“You can imagine. There is a great (environment) without the dust from cars; without the dust from factories. There is good grass so that the cow can eat good food,” he said. “Beautiful cows can make beautiful milk.”

In jest, he added, “Hokkaido makes me like this.”

Japanese products have a reputation of excellence behind them, and Mr. Makoto tries to explain why. “Personally, I think Japanese people make products with care. They want to achieve the best… in Japan, and also the world,” he said. “They want to achieve better quality.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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