Cost: 179 yen
Found at: Yamadai
The great lesson of my time studying abroad was realizing the benefits of being mistaken for a tourist. There are certain downsides. Every time I look at a subway map, for example, I find myself fighting off helpful grandfathers like I’m in an infrastructure-themed apocalypse film full of the extremely polite zombies. But it’s all worth it for the free samples.
Every time that our mangy coterie of exchange students made it down to Kyoto for a weekend, I would always try to sneak away to Kyomizudera temple, and its shops full of mochi samples. It was the only way that I could indulge my sweet tooth on my budget – and so, with a rotation of Daiso sunglasses, I was able to eat a king’s ransom in samples over my tenure in Japan. These strips of “zig-zag bridge mochi” were a particular favorite. A Kyoto specialty, the samples were not cut into small pieces, as with the others, but served in whole strips of pink strawberry, green matcha, black sesame, brown cinnamon, and plain white goodness. Decidedly not making eye contact, I would munch my way along the shelves, looking thoughtful – as if maybe I would buy one, but couldn’t decide – and hoping that no one would attempt to assist me. Then, when I had exhausted my sample options I would, just as casually, stroll out again – as if to fetch my wallet. Ethical it was not, but boy was it delicious.
And after all that, I thought I would be sick of them, but sure enough, when I spotted them at the local grocery store, I just had to have them. After all, now that I have a steady income, I can eat all the mochi I like. And they are as soft and pliant as I remember, not unlike a soft fruit leather in texture and pleasantly light green in a way that makes up for their very mild matcha flavoring. In fact, with the help of a cup of tea and a good book, you’ll barely notice until you’ve eaten the whole pack.
Now, though only it lacks is the thrill of the sport.