We spent a week in Silicon Valley last month, caring for my little niece while my brother was on an anniversary trip. Arne and I kept both the baby and the dog alive the whole time, so I count it a win.
We also successfully got Rory to daycare every morning, despite the daily trauma of shoes. I had no idea shoes could be such torment. Life is hard when you’re almost two. Anyway, while Rory was at school, Arne and I could go out for lunch and do a little exploring. One day we decided to check out San Jose’s Museum of Art and its Japantown, said to be one of three authentic Japantowns remaining in the US (though I’m not sure which three are the “authentic” ones).
Honestly, I hated the art museum. The rotating exhibit was something called “Covert Operations: Investigating the Known Unknowns” that consisted largely of documentary footage of Bad Things. One of the exhibits used footage that took place during the Arab Spring, and the sound of howling humanity in that footage could be heard almost everywhere in the museum. It was the sound of a mob that might do anything, a dangerous and horrible sound that activated my fight-or-flight response so that I could barely stand to be in the building.
The one room with a door that shut out the howling had a videogame as part of its exhibit that was the single worst gameplay experience I have ever seen. You were driving a car, only the steering really didn’t work and the car seemed to have a top speed of two MPH and the clipping was so bad you could basically drive right through buildings. It was supposed to be demonstrating something to me, but I have no idea what, because it was unplayable. Oh well.
Japantown was more fun, though it was hot as blazes outside, so we tended to scurry rather than stroll. We bought a cool art book called Monmon Cats of, well, paintings of tattooed cats. (Check out the website; it turns your cursor into a cat paw! Cute!) When we finished shopping, we ate lunch at a tiny restaurant with fantastic Japanese curry, though we disagree as to whether it was better than Kokoro’s. (Arne says yes, but I don’t think so.) We got there just as it opened, and it was jam-packed by the time we left.
The standout of the day, though, was undoubtedly Shuei-Do, a tiny shop that specialized in manju, traditional Japanese sweets. Mochi, soft rice-flour treats often filled with sweet bean paste, are the best-known variety. I was dithering about how much to get, and Arne stopped me by simply stating that we were getting one of each. I agreed… except I had a good feeling about the peanut-butter mochi, so we got two of those (bringing us to an even dozen).
There were a couple of baked manju varieties, which I wasn’t as thrilled with – and those gorgeous pink cubes in the photos were basically pure adzuki-bean paste, so it took some dedication to eat a whole one – but the mochi were unbelievable: incredibly soft, chewy, and flavorful. I’ve never had mochi in the same stratosphere as these. I don’t know if it was the freshness (we polished off the whole box in three days, so they didn’t have time to get stale) or the freshness or both, but they were amazing. Especially the ones with white-bean paste, which I find more delicate and tasty than the red-bean kind. And most especially the peanut-butter ones. I could have taken on a whole box just of those, all by myself. The salty richness of peanut butter was an amazing addition to the soft sweetness of the mochi. Wow.
The writeup for Shuei-Do on the JTown website says their manju were served to the Emperor of Japan when he visited the US, and I don’t doubt it. (Though it reminds me of Arne’s tales of native Norwegians being served lutefisk when they visit the States. It seems kind of odd to me to serve visitors from other countries food from their country, unless they’ve been here a long time. And especially lutefisk, which is cod prepared with lye until it resembles gelatin and is defined on Urban Dictionary as “food used in Norway to torture children.” But I digress.)
Next time you’re in San Jose, eat like an emperor – or like a happy child – by picking up some of the colorful treats at Shuei-Do. Just be sure to bring cash, because apparently when you have a product this good, you don’t need to mess around with plastic.