Hola y Feliz Año Nuevo from Oaxaca, Mexico, where we’re enjoying a few days of warm winter sun and New Year’s festivity. There is so much wonderful food and drink here!
A specialty of the state of Oaxaca is mezcal, a spirit made from the native agave plant and a cousin to tequila. In Santiago Matatlán, a few miles east of Oaxaca City, artisanal family mezcal distilleries are everywhere, and we enjoyed the opportunity to see how mezcal is made.
The spiky leaves of the agave plant are chopped off, leaving the heart, or piña (“pineapple”):
I have been in Japan for the past week! Of course I was interested to find out what the baking scene is like here, and I was a bit surprised to find that bakeries are perhaps more numerous than I found even in Paris. The Japanese do bake and eat a lot of bread and pastries! Much of it is Western artisan style, and although I did not sample any of those breads, I must say that, if appearance is any indication, these bakers really give the Europeans and Americans a run for their money. In fact, the Japanese team won the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, a triennial international artisan baking competition, in 2002 (they came in third, behind the USA and France, in 2005).
But I wanted to know if there was a bread that is distinctly Japanese, and a Japanese friend directed me to Kimuraya in the Ginza district. Established in 1869, this is one of the oldest and most well-known bakeries in Tokyo, and its founder is responsible for introducing their signature anpan, a uniquely Japanese bread. These small buns bear a resemblance to miniature hamburger buns or bagels but are soft, a little sweet, and filled with sweet red, white, or green bean paste. The filling may also include a little pickle, sesame paste, or other ingredients. The dough is made with the same yeast used to ferment sake.