Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Adventure 12/50 : Tokara!

For years I've seen the little house on Phinney Ridge, with its small display case on the fence, and sign advertising "Tokara" and, sometimes mysteriously, the word "Tohryanse" and a date.

I'd peered into the display case, looking at pictures of "Japanese confections" and not really knowing what it was. It didn't appear that you could actually buy them … at least not there. Was it just a tiny manufacturer? Or someone with a hobby? Or???

With our trip to Japan coming up later this year, it seemed right to try to crack the code… what is a "Tohryanse"? What is the cadence of the dates? A tiny bit of research led me to the website tokara.com.

Turns out that Chika Tokara is a confectioner who moved to Seattle from Japan and makes exquisite wagashi -- Japanese sweets. (Lots of this information comes from an in-depth article about her and her story on Edible Seattle; read it on edibleseattle.com.) She uses local, in-season, and organic ingredients to create confections that are exceptionally beautiful. Each sweet is designed to capture the flavors and feeling of the season.

Wagashi are very labor intensive and so delicate that they cannot be refrigerated – so they must be eaten within a day or two of their creation. I followed the instructions on the website and called to reserve a box at the next tohryanse, or studio sale.

I was a little nervous on the day, but we walked in and were welcomed by Ms. Tokara. She had injured her back so made less than usual, but we were lucky to get the box of three seasonal sweets, along with one extra piece. We took them home and settled in to sample them.

Japanese sweets are less, well, SWEET than American or British sweets. We found the flavors incredibly delicate, and the pieces themselves were works of art. I wish I knew more about what we were eating!

This piece was filled with adzuki bean paste and was the least impressive, both visually and taste-wise. The texture was soft and silky -- possibly steamed mochi?

This piece, which features a delicate iris pattern, had a similar filling but had a spongy, cakey exterior:

And this piece, which was as beautiful as it was delicious, was made of firm gelatin and flavored with cherry juice. Exquisite!

Tokara holds an open house monthly, usually on the third Sunday of every month – but confirm the date on her site. She recommends calling to reserve a special box of three kinds of seasonal sweets – just like we did. We haven't managed to go again, but I like to imagine visiting every few months and trying different wagashi.

Tokara's sweets are also available at select locations around Seattle, and the next open house is on Sunday, July 21.

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