Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Azabu Karinto

Remember what I said about how lines form outside popular shops? Azabu Karinto, a newcomer to the Azabu Juban neighborhood, is nearly always crowded on the weekends, but I recently made up my mind to brave the crowds and join the line. And having tasted what they sell, I'm now in serious danger of having to go back. Karinto may very possibly become my new obsession.
Karinto come in many flavors and types - over 50 types, according to the picture brochure included with each package. The classic style is that at that top right and bottom left - a yeasted dough that's cut or twisted into small pieces (though they can be as thick as an inch in diameter), fried, and soaked in syrup made from the black, molassesy sugar for which Okinawa is famous. They can either be soft (the one at the top) or crunchy (the one below). Azabu Karinto sells endless variations. Also on this plate are peanut and white chocolate-coated crunchy karinto. Others I'll have to try some day include soy milk, cinnamon, green tea, brown rice, miso, yuzu, and pumpkin... and about 40 others.

In the crispy-type karinto, the syrup soaks pretty much all the way through, but in the larger soft variety, as you can see, the center stays plain. It actually seems as if the center was made separately, but I don't know if that's the case, or how that would be done. But the texture is much firmer than the outer layer. Though karinto itself is not a beautiful food - it's an old-fashioned Okinawan snack that's considered rough and rustic - the packaging at Azabu Karinto makes up for the karinto's lack of beauty. Each package comes in one of four or five different patterns of thick Japanese paper, decorated with calligraphy or old maps or line drawings, and bound with a vertical off-white strip of paper bearing the shop's name and stamp seal and the name of the type of karinto inside. It's like opening a present.

Azabu Karinto
Azabu-Juban 1-7-9
Minato-ku, Tokyo

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