Bean paste. What’s that all about? Every time you get some omiyage in this country you’ll open the wrapper and marvel at how beautiful or bizarre it looks. Sometimes you’ll want to gobble it up right away, sometimes you’ll just want to sit there, stare at it and poke it for a while, and then other times you’ll just wonder why you’ve been given it in the first place.
One of these times was after a trip to Hakone, a place famous for its hot springs, beautiful vistas and an impressive shrine, but also for its geothermal activity. After a fantastic gondola ride up a mountain and an incredible view of Mt. Fuji, you can join hoards of Japanese tourists for a little walk to some sulphur pools and bask in the bliss-inducing smell of rotten eggs. Not only this, but there is a little shack selling actual eggs that have been cooked in the sulphur, and their shells are subsequently as black as a chimney sweep in a nightclub. These famous “black eggs” are snapped up by hundreds of intrigued people wondering if they taste any different, and munched dutifully four feet away from the shack itself. So there I was, walking on eggshells in a very literal sense, buying eggs from a shack on a mountain and wolfing it down, only to think that this egg tastes a lot like an overcooked boiled egg, which it did, and then that I should take some of these back for my JTEs, which I did. How my brain made the connection between those two thoughts is beyond me but I guess it was the novelty factor that swayed me to purchase precisely ten.
Now I think that was bloody thoughtful of me, going all the way to a mountain top to get presents for my work colleagues, yet when I presented one of said eggs to one of my teachers I was confronted with giggles and an inquisitive, yet somewhat incredulous look.
“What is this?”
“It’s a black egg from Hakone.”
“This is real egg?”
“What, you don’t like eggs?”
“No, no, I like eggs. I will have it at lunch, thank you.”
The cheek! To be fair though, she did get me a massive lump of chocolate from France. To get an overcooked, day-old egg that looks like a lump of charcoal isn’t exactly going to win hearts.
I digress. The Japanese put bean paste in everything. Imagine getting a whole bunch of kidney beans, mashing them up and then loading them with sugar. You now have the essence of what this nationally revered delicacy is about. I’ve talked already about the beauty of omiyage. When you’ve stared at it for a good half-an-hour or so and you can finally bring yourself to reap its destruction by way of consumption, you are suddenly struck with a feeling of dread. All you can think is what’s inside it?. But you’re only kidding yourself. You knew what was inside it before you even opened the packet.
Bloody bean paste, that’s what.