If you are headed to Japan and want a hands on foodie experience, you will not be disappointed. A quick google search will bring up plenty of options for you, from making sushi and soba noodles to the inedible but delicious looking plastic food replicas. If, like me, you have a bit of a sweet tooth, I would recommend finding a wagashi class. Wagashi are the sweets traditionally served as part of a tea ceremony. Usually made from anko (been paste), mochi (a glutinous rice dough) and sometimes fruit, wagashi are formed into a range of beautifully coloured, intricate shapes which reflect the current season. As just a small example of the many, many types you might come across, In spring you'll see cherry and plum blossoms, right now, it's irises and later in autumn maple leaves will be popular.
My wagashi experience was an hour workshop with the mums at my son's kindergarten and it was a lot of fun. We made 4 different shape wagashi, starting with what the teacher claimed to be the easiest. There was much laughter as our birds came out looking more like whales and fugu than the poor Uguisu (Japanese Bush Warbler) they were meant to resemble! Luckily, as the workshop progressed we got the hang of it and ended up with at least one or two decent wagashi to take home, show off and then eat.
Unfortunately I don't have photos of the process itself due to having sticky hands from the nerikiri dough (made from bean paste and mochi flour). However, it went more or less as follows...
1. We were given 5 different colour balls of dough and a ball of red bean paste for the centre of the sweets.
2. Selected the colours we needed and formed them into balls. If we needed to combine colours we did so at this stage by placing them together and then rolling them into a cylindrical shape or by stacking them and flattening them together.
3. We flattened the dough for the outside of the sweet gently and placed it in one hand.
4. We took the ball of red bean paste and place it in the middle of the flattened dough
5. We cupped the hand holding the dough and using our free hand, gently pushed and turned the dough so the outer layer slowly stretched and formed around the red bean paste.
6. Finally we shaped the sweet and decorated using a butter knife to create the lines, the end of a teaspoon to imprint petals and a tea strainer to finely shred dough.
So, for a fun, tasty and different cooking experience in Japan, why not try a Wagashi class?
For other hands-on activity suggestions check out the following articles