The title of the book – and the writer’s name (Durian? As in like the fruit? Or does it have some other meaning?)- was what attracted me at first, as well as the lovely color scheme of the cover.
And what a poignant and moving story this was.
It’s an odd couple kind of story. An ex-con working at a dorayaki shop to pay his debts and a 76-year-old woman with gnarled hands who asks him for a job at the shop, offering to teach him her recipe for sweet bean paste, which she says she’s been making for fifty years.
(Dorayaki is a Japanese confectionary with sweet red bean paste sandwiched between two small pancakes.)
Sentaro doesn’t want to hire her at first, even though she offers to accept a lower pay. But it turns out that Tokue makes amazing sweet bean paste.
“Unlike the ready-made paste, this was the smell of fresh, living beans. It has depth. It had life. A mellow, sweet taste unfurled inside Sentaro’s mouth.”
Sentaro had been using a commercially-made paste which isn’t exactly the best. He’s been pretty much grudgingly doing his work every day, it’s more about paying off his debt than anything else.
But after he hires her, business begins to improve. And Sentaro starts to be more interested in the making of dorayaki. They experiment with beans from different countries. And since Tokue doesn’t work every day, Sentaro begins to make the paste himself.
However word soon gets out – to the customers, to the shop owner – that there may be something wrong with Tokue. People stay away from the shop, the owner wants Sentaro to get rid of her. But how can he?
Sweet Bean Paste is a story about loneliness, about prejudice, about two outsiders who become unlikely friends. I loved how the focus was just on a few characters and the friendships that developed among them.
And oh, the changing of the seasons, especially with all the cherry blossoms!
“Blossom surrounds him on all sides, as if he is at the centre of a deep, sparkling lake. He senses the full force of emotion that has been dormant in the trees all year, waiting for this once-a-year explosion of joy: their pure, unadulterated happiness.”
And most of all, this book will make you long for a taste of dorayaki. Or maybe you’ll be tempted to try to make your own!
And that was exactly what I did.
One thing I like to pick up when we visit Japanese supermarkets is dorayaki. I especially love the dorayaki with chestnuts in them. I’ve never thought to make them! But I was really inspired by the book and just wanted to try making my own.
I found this recipe from Just One Cookbook and hey, I had all the ingredients in my kitchen. I had also seen a couple of recipes like this one from Chopstick Chronicles which added a teaspoon of mirin or sweet rice wine so I added that too.
So we made it just yesterday, a rainy Friday after school.
It was a nice treat for all of us, as we have all been catching coughs and colds one after another these past few weeks.
The recipe was easy enough and didn’t require any special equipment besides a whisk. The kids took turns cracking and beating the eggs, adding ingredients.
And they stood by the stove and watched for bubbles. And soon became quite good at spotting when it was time to turn the pancake. It needs about 1.5 minutes or so on the first side.
The pancake batter has both sugar and honey in it. So it does brown quite a bit.
I didn’t have adzuki beans on hand but I did luckily have this tin of red bean paste or anko.
Tada! Freshly made dorayaki. So good!
I’ll have to try making the red bean paste myself another time but for now, this was great!
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