Heading Out to See the Cherry Blossoms?

Try these beautiful Japanese wagashi when you go
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As tasty as it is pretty: Tokara's sakura mochi.

Even Seattleites most sympathetic to the weather here—and I consider myself among them—have had enough with the rain. The shining light at the end of this seemingly interminable tunnel is the city’s most glorious harbinger of spring: the cherry blossom.

To Chika Tokara, cherry blossoms aren’t just tiny symbols of the sunlight and warmth to come. They’re a seasonal inspiration for her beautiful wagashi, Japanese sweets meant to accompany tea. Her eponymous wholesale company supplies these delicate, traditional confections to cafes around town, and in March and April, the theme is always sakura—the Japanese word for those equally delicate, beautiful blossoms. 

Tokara uses real Japanese ingredients and old-school techniques she spent years studying in Japan before moving to Seattle in 2000. Her cherry mochi is a best seller. Each dainty, pink, red-bean-paste-filled bonbon (made of a coarser grain mochi than perhaps you’re used to) is wrapped in a salted, pickled cherry leaf. Like vanilla, the cherry blossom influence comes more in scent than flavor. She introduced me to a wonderfully chewy sweet called suhama made of roasted soy bean powder, reminiscent of nut butter. And for Seattle Center’s Cherry Blossom Festival April 21 to 23, she’s making yokan, a labor-intensive dense jelly with cherry compote she makes from scratch.

In Japan, the pink blooms are so revered for their beauty that coworkers, friends and families gather outside to eat and drink under the trees. Hanami, or flower viewing, is a recreational event looked forward to after the cold, often wet winters (hey, sound familiar, Seattle?). But Tokara is quick to point out that her hometown of Sapporo has a very different relationship with cherry blossoms than, say, Tokyo—the city is so far north that there’s sometimes still snow on the ground this time of year, and the blossoms regularly only last a week.

Here in Seattle, the obvious choice to take in the beauty is the UW quad, where the bounty of cherry blossom trees is expected to reach full bloom right about… now. Swing by one of Tokara’s clients—you can find her sweets at Fresh Flours, Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee, Ten Sushi and Tougo Coffee—to pick up a bite of something sweet to have while you’re there. You can also visit Tokara at the monthly open house she holds at her Phinney Ridge studio, April 16 from 1 to 3:30 pm (please make a phone reservation at 206.782.1853).

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