Mochi Land

I had a bit of an excursion today. An assignment to write about an Asian food business took me downtown to Little Tokyo, in search of a hundred-year-old Japanese confectionery shop called Fugetsu-Do. To get there, I opted to try LA’s subway system, Metro Rail, instead of dealing with parking and Friday-afternoon traffic. I was out for about five or six hours and had a great time.

As we all know, no one in LA takes public transportation, but even so, the subway was a bit of a surprise. Unlike in NYC or even the Bay Area’s BART system, Metro Rail stations are only very discreetly marked, and there’s apparently only one street-level entrance, so that you can walk right by without even knowing the subway runs there. (In fact, I did, and was halfway to the next station before I realized I’d passed it.) Like so much else in LA, the stations are spacious. Cavernous. Each one is decorated, too; the one at Hollywood and Vine has film reels all over the ceiling. The cars are larger than others I’ve been on, also. Getting on is easy, because (1) you don’t have to go through a turnstile; supposedly conductors come by every now and then to check if you have your ticket, but none ever came my way, and (2) most stations only service one line, so instead of trying to figure out whether you need to take the blue line or the green one or red or whatever, all you have to know is whether you’re going one direction or the other. Simple. And maybe because the system is newer than the others I’ve been on, it’s also a fairly smooth ride. I’ve never had such a bizarrely pleasant subway experience.

My New York trip finally taught me something after all: I didn’t have occasion to ask for directions, but I did pull out a map right in the middle of a public area, which I used to be embarrassed to do. Well, it saved me an extra walk uphill in the wrong direction. So I’m glad I did it.

I got to Little Tokyo and spotted Fugetsu-Do right away, but I didn’t feel like going there right away, so I kept walking. I had specifically come to Little Tokyo hungry because I wanted to have udon soup for lunch, so I walked down the street until I got to Japanese Village Plaza. That place is really something. I probably walked through it five times, mouth figuratively agape, unable to figure out where to start. So much food! So many stores! Mikawaya is a manju shop only seven years younger than Fugetsu-Do and is the alleged originator of mochi ice cream. They have GELATO. Omg. There’s a Japanese 98-cent store with such amazing finds as Japanese dishes. Yes. 98-cent Japanese dishes. Omg again. Yamazaki Bakery has Napoleons, fruit tarts, and that really soft Asian white bread you can also get at 99 Ranch or Sheng Kee. Finally I had to just pick a place and sit down, lest I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering in amazement. I went to Oomasa and had an astonishingly delicious and very filling lunch for really reasonable prices. $6.50 for nabeyaki udon and $5 for California Roll with the freshest cucumber I’ve ever had in a CA roll. And little cabbage pickles, and hot tea. So happy.

After lunch I did a little exploring and window shopping. This cracked me up: one gift shop and book store had, smack in the middle of their book display, Jon Stewart’s America, right between guides to origami and Japanese design. Across the street, when I passed Daikokuya I almost wished I’d gone there for lunch instead, the aroma wafting from the opened door was soooo tantalizing. I looked at the menu. That smell was probably house-made pork broth. Sigh. But it did smell amazing.

I didn’t spend a lot of time at Fugetsu-Do, just looked around a bit. It’s a tiny place and it’s probably better explored through this video, which we watched in class but which is tiny and poor quality online. Sorry. I did get some mochigashi, though.

Mochigashi package

I opened up the package as soon as I got home and when I bit into the first one– ooooh! A huge smile just erupted over my face. I don’t know when was the last time I had a mochi with such a wonderful squishy-silky texture, if ever. Nice clean flavor, too. (No red bean inside, either, which is the way I like it.) I had been wondering how I was going to eat these all myself, but now I’m afraid I’ll devour the entire tray before dinner. Now I wish I’d bought some at Mikawaya, too, for comparison.

This is actual size [more or less?]:

Before getting back on the Metro, I ended my explorations with an hour of reading at the Little Tokyo branch of the public library. Did you know there are mochi cookbooks? There are mochi cookbooks. Now I know a lot more about the history, making, and traditions of mochi than I ever thought I would. Fun day.

If I get my act together maybe I’ll make every Friday my exploring day and every Tuesday-Wednesday my twelve-hours-of-sleep night! (That’s what I did this week, when I had a long Tuesday to recover from.)

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]