Such mysterious names! Bamboo Shoot's Village, Mushroom's Rural Settlement and Small Branch? And, English names that give no hint of the product, like Look, Black Thunder and Koala's March?
Well, Choco Baby, Pocky, and Toppo lend a little connection to its naming as you might be able to imagine the outline of the product. Tirol chocolate? Now we're getting somewhere--finally, a name that conjures up a connection. The Swiss are famous for consuming about 10 kilograms of chocolate per person each year. Wait, the Tirol Alps are in Austria. Well, close enough.
As you may have figured out by now, today’s column is about chocolate. I’m a serious chocoholic and can write volumes about the by-product of the tropical evergreen tree Theobroma cacao, which in Greek means "food of the gods." I must be pretty godly because I consume more chocolate than the average person in Switzerland.
Several years ago, I trekked in a rainforest in Central America for hours to visit a cacao plantation and from scratch using pestle and mortar and heating the resulting paste over a wood-burning fire, I made chocolate. You get the idea how much I love chocolate, right?
In February, I was searching for Valentine Day’s chocolate. I wanted something that was exquisite and Japanese.
I’d been on the lookout for quality domestic chocolate for years and have tried, oh, so many, and finally I found, in my opinion, the ultimate "Made in Japan" box of assorted chocolates called Flight by a company that I had never heard of: Minimal, Bean to Bar Chocolate. Its main shop is in Tomigaya, Shibuya Ward.
To me, the heart of Japanese culture lies in Zen. The beauty of Zen is simplicity. True to its name, it uses only cacao beans and sugar. Like fine sake, there’s no need to add stuff to enhance it--when the universe comes together under the perfect conditions, rice and water is all that’s needed. Same thing.
I heard that it was offering a chocolate-making workshop, so I attended. How could I not? The texture of Minimal’s chocolate is not smooth and silky like most chocolates on the market.
Tiny ground chocolate nibs are deliberately left in, which gives the chocolate a distinct texture. We made chocolate bars using beans from Vietnam and Haiti. The beans were the same, and only sugar was added, but what a difference in taste--that’s the magical world of fermentation.
Mass produced with cute names? Visit your local "conbini" store. Boutique chocolates? Tomigaya hits the sweet spot.
This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the May 21 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa's In and Around Tokyo," that is the successor series to the popular "Lisa's Eye on Tokyo." Moving beyond the geographical range of its predecessor, the new series will depict areas further from central Tokyo that can be enjoyed in day trips, but will still offer the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.