By Futoshi Shinohara / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterKITAKYUSHU — What happens when cinnamon is fused with mochi?
A long-established traditional Japanese food shop in Kitakyushu’s Moji Ward has come up with a new type of mochi in creative collaboration with an Iranian intern.
The idea came from Maryam Paykary, who came to Japan as an intern at Takaishi Foods. Called cinnamon mochi, it is only sold on Saturdays, and every week all 200 pieces sell out, making it one of the shop’s most popular sweets.
The round light-brown mochi is decorated with a smiley face, its mouth made with cinnamon powder. The sweetness of the black bean paste inside the mochi spreads through the mouth, and you can smell the aroma of cinnamon.
“I initially thought [cinnamon] wouldn’t complement mochi, but the product actually tastes good, doesn’t it?” said Takahiro Kiyofuji, 28, the fifth proprietor of the family-run shop.
Takaishi Foods began operating in 1915, selling traditional sweets such as red and white mochi, ohagi bean paste-coated mochi and dango dumplings used as offerings. Changes in the diet of Japanese people have caused young people to eat less mochi, and the development of new products has become part of the shop’s agenda.
Kiyofuji, who took over the business in April, thought of adopting ideas from foreigners. He learned about the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s Global Internship Program, and Paykary came to his shop in early October as an intern through the program.
Paykary, 31, is from Isfahan in central Iran. After graduating from a local university, she worked in quality control at a food company for three years and also learned about crops and other topics at a graduate school in Malaysia. She said she applied to the ministry’s internship program hoping to learn how business is done in Japan.
“I was surprised by the sticky and strange texture [of mochi],” Paykary said as she recalled tasting the food for the first time.
Asked by Kiyofuji if she had any ideas for new products, the idea of cinnamon flashed into her mind. The spice is often used for bread and desserts in her home country. Cinnamon is said to have anti-aging effects. Kiyofuji and Paykary soon started test productions.
The exotic sweet was not developed in a day. Using too much cinnamon will give it too much fragrance for Japanese consumers. They struggled with whether to sprinkle cinnamon over the mochi or knead it into the dough, and whether to use white or black bean paste. Paykary asked about 50 people in the shop’s neighborhood to taste samples and got feedback by communicating in rudimentary Japanese.
Through trial and error, they created cinnamon mochi.
“I owe this to Paykary-san’s passion. By getting the community involved, we were able to create a good product,” Kiyofuji said.
Paykary was living on the second floor of the shop, helping to make mochi and packing sweets for sale. Her internship at the shop ended last week. Her dream is to open a bakery in her own country.
“I want to make use of what I learned in this shop to make many people smile,” she said.
The smiley face on the cinnamon mochi expresses her hope. It may not be a mere dream to see many people far away in the Middle East smiling while eating cinnamon-flavored mochi some day.
Cinnamon mochi sells for ¥120 per piece. It is available only on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to around 4 p.m. For more information, call Takaishi Foods at (093) 321-6079.
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