Okay, so my favorite part of Tokyo was the department store basement. In Hawaii, department store basements consist of the men and children’s clothing section, but in Tokyo, it was a pastry, confection, and dessert haven. We visited five different basements, but ranking on my top two was Takashimaya in Shinjuku and Mitsukoshi in Ginza. They were unbelievable.
I could have spent every minute of our vacation just wandering around the Mitsukoshi basement, admiring the brilliant lineup of sweets. They had everything you could imagine or hope for, running from macarons of magical shades and flavors, truffles, cakes towering high and a dizzy rainbow of éclairs and parfaits. The hard part was figuring out what to get. With all these choices it seemed that one could do no wrong, but at the same time there was that impending fear of regret that I would choose the worst of the best. I walked myself into circles at least a dozen times around the basement, creating a mental list of possibilities. But the list kept on growing and growing and it seemed that I was getting nowhere. Until…
…I saw this counter! It looked so perfect! Well actually, everything in that basement looked perfect, but this was like, especially perfect. Mochi. This was it, I thought, as I erased the long list in my head. Recovering from that sight of perfection, I turned my gaze slightly to the right, and holey moley! Look at this!
Kinako dusted mochi, every bit as perfect as the matcha one! Chee, I was smiling left and right. And then my sister came up to me, pinched me in the stomach and goes, “mom and dad are tired of this place, they want to go, are you finished?” Sigh. Her pinched brought to attention my ever growing mound of belly flab, and for a brief moment, I reconsidered purchasing any dessert. Bah. But nonono, it would be so stupid to come all the way here and not have dessert! So I compromised with myself. Just one mochi, either the matcha or kinako, and then another dessert. That seemed reasonable enough.
My sole reason for picking matcha over kinako was because green is my favorite color (except when it comes to clothing, but this isn’t a fashion blog is it?). And oh god, it tasted about ten million times better than it looked. The texture was crazy, I took it in three bites. I expected something chewy, filled with azuki bean paste perhaps, but this was like mochi with integrity that needed no chew. It was just sweet enough, so supple, melting into a soft puddle in your mouth. Just the barest dusting of matcha and a filling resembling azuki in appearance, but sure didn’t taste like any asuki I’ve ever had. These innards were buttery smooth like a fine, cool gelato. Not dense, but silky and light to the tongue. I should have shared, but you can get your own.
I then wandered to Giotto, another counter I had my eyes on. Gitto was hidden in the faraway end of the basement, yet their distance gave them opportunity to secure more property, their display of pastries spreading across counters four times longer than the average. Options were aplenty, as I had quickly realized. But there was only one I cared to call my own. And he was named Bill. Most of their desserts have American names. So Bill it is.
Purchasing Bill was quick. But wrapping him up took a good five minutes. After selecting and paying from him, I was given a numbered ticket and told to wait at the other counter. At the other end, I watched an extremely well dressed lady wrap up my Bill with the utmost care. I almost hated to think that I’d have to undo all the wrapping just to eat him. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the packaging labor and material involved in exceeded the price I paid for the dessert.
And then I realized that there was simply no place for me to sit and eat Bill. Then I noticed my dad getting grouchy and tired of this basement. He said, “Kathy, you spent all my money this morning. We need to exchange more currency.” So we left and walked across the street, him with the goal of finding a bank, and me wondering where the heck I could sit and eat Bill. But lucky us, cause there were chairs at the bank! And then just as I started to unwrap Bill, my dad came back and said, “they don’t exchange over here, we have to go somewhere else.” Boo. By the time we trucked Bill here and there, he’d get warm already! So I said, “let’s meet somewhere in half an hour. I’ll go eat, and you can go to another bank. We parted ways and I went in search of a table.
I ended up going back to the basement and sitting at a table near the mochi place. Bill was the coolest looking dessert I’ve seen in a long time! I unpacked and unpacked, so much work involved in attempting to eat this dessert!
And here is Bill. Quite a sight isn’t he? I thought the trio of shimmery orbs were balls of melons, but I was tricked! I was never so delighted to be fooled when I bit into airy rounds of sponge cake, bordering on the lightness of angel food. Each round was polished in a citrusy gelatin, and rested in a black sesame speckled cone filled with pastry cream. To keep the cone from softening was thin layer of white chocolate painted on the inside.
Bill came in a lovely painted dish and in this dish, holding up the cones was another dessert entirely. I ate half of it before thinking that I should probably take a picture. Sorry if he doesn’t look super appetizing. At the bottom is a custardy vanilla pudding, a creamy, full-bodied concoction dotted in vanilla beans. And on top was something that reminded me of a Japanese interpretation on crumb cake. Just as satisfying, not nearly as sweet. Bill didn’t provide that delirious feeling of rush when you eat something incredible, but eating that dessert part by part and understanding how it all comes together, was quite satisfying in itself. After eating I picked up the Giotto bag and realized that it was still very, very cold. Was there a part of the dessert I had missed? I peeked in and saw an ice pack wrapped in black at the bottom of the bag. They don’t miss anything, do they?!
I’ve been updating a spreadsheet on pu’erh prices on release for the past few years in order to get an idea of tea being offered to western consumers and any possible trends. The well-known popular narrative is that fresh pu’erh prices have gone up and this certainly seems true in the data. Last year the prices looked about the same as the previous year. And when and how much the price has gone up depends on how we look at this and there’s a handful of different ways to look at the data and options available (I do three here).