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Published November 26th 2012
An edible garden cooking class with a sado experience
Wagashi are traditional Japanese confections using natural ingredients derived from grains, beans and fruit. During the ancient imperial period, it has evolved into an art form in the ancient imperial capital, Kyoto. It represents the essence of Japanese tea culture, together with sado (Japanese tea ceremony). This past weekend, I was so grateful to be offered the opportunity, by the owner of the Ryokan Gojyuan, Linda, to learn to how to make Japanese wagashi with the experienced wagashi master. Yukiko Hirano.
The workshop was held in the kitchen of Linda's house (Ryokan Gojyuan is located downstairs). The ingredients and the recipe sheets were placed neatly on the operation table before our arrival. The class was conducted mainly in Japanese and English and we were encouraged to ask questions during the class. As there are many types of wagashi for different occasions, the workshop I attended focused on making tea sweets. There were four main ingredients, lima beans for the shiro-an (white sweet bean paste), glutinous rice flour, sugar and natural food colouring.
First, Yukiko showed us how to prepare the shiro-an (white sweet bean paste), while the lima beans were cooking on the stove.
Then Yukiko demonstrated to us how to prepare the mochi (rice cake) by mixing the glutinous rice flour with sugar and then heated the mixture in the microwave several times.
There was mochi and shiro-an prepared beforehand by Yukiko to save our time. So we went straight into adding the colour into the mochi and moulding the shiro-an into the mochi. It required a little bit technique, as you needed to mix the shiro-an with mochi togethe,r while keeping the shiro-an as a whole ball inside the rice cake.
Now came the fun time of sculpting the mixture and showing off our craftsmanship. Yukiko gave us a tool, a triangle-shaped wooden piece. We were told to craft the line starting from the bottom and working the way up to the top, imagining there was a centre point on the rice cake and then turning the cake around, and you do it again until you finished the circle.
My first cake turned out to be great, but my second attempt was a disaster. I'm glad that I was creative enough to turn a cherry blossom into a cartoon monster. Yukiko told me that her daughter would love to see it and soon after, all the others came along and had a good laugh at my monster. He soon became the attention of all the cameras after that.
Our class wrapped up with sado, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. We all gathered at the dining table downstairs, sipping the freshly made green tea, accompanied by our freshly made wagashi. It was a great day to discover Japanese culture without leaving our door step.
When you walk along the main street in Balmain, Darling Street, you wouldn't imagine that you can find a little piece of Japan in this arty and funky suburb.
The sand stone building reminded me more of the early settlers in Australia, but when I entered the building, it was a totally different world, a living space with many Japanese Art Deco.
You can ponder at the little zen garden with the koi swimming carelessly in the little pond. The hotel is currently under renovation, installing the Japanese traditional wooden buck sauna in the bathroom. The owner, Linda, is very pleased to show you around and tell you the interesting stories of changing a heritage house inherited from her uncle into a traditional Japanese boutique hotel.
Apart from Wagashi workshop, Ryokan Gojyuan also offers a calligraphy workshop, furoshik i(Japanese cloth wrapping) workshop, gift wrapping workshop and ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) workshop. For more information on upcoming events and workshops, please visit their website here.