⟨ Food ⟩

Displaying the poetic and lyrical world of nature

Sayoko Sugiyama, Japanese confectionery writer

Words & Photography / MIDWAY

在北山紫竹區的小街內,童裝店「KIOTO舍」的老闆陪伴著我們找到正確的門牌處,不禁就想這應該不是第一次有客人找錯「御菓子丸」的門牌吧?然後,應門而來的和菓子作家──杉山早陽子小姐也彷似習以為常地向對方道謝,這個小細節充滿著京都的人情與地味。

On a small street in the Shichiku district of Kitayama, the owner of KIOTO Sha, a children’s clothing store, led us to the right entrance. We could not help but think that it probably was not the first time that a customer knocked on the wrong door while looking for “Okashimaru”. Answering the door, Ms Sayoko Sugiyama, a wakashi, or Japanese confectionery writer, thanked the owner, seemingly habitually. This little episode is rich in the human touch and plain living style of Kyoto.

我們到訪的,不單是杉山小姐的工作室,也是她的家,屬於京都傳統町家的格局,大門後細細長長的走廊引領視線到達她平常製造和菓子的料理台。這種慣常的町家廚房有著十分高挑的空間,自然光從天花處緩緩落下,日光剛好照射到烹調的枱面上,如光造影,像是她的一個舞台,創作出無所拘束、蘊含傳統與創新的詩意和菓子。我們在那裡一邊欣賞她示範製作,一邊聆聽著她的故事。

The place we visited serves not only as Ms Sugiyama’s workshop. It is also her home, which was built in the style of traditional town houses in Kyoto. The long, narrow corridor behind the front door led our eyes to the kitchen table, where she normally prepares her confectionery. Such a typical kitchen of town houses boasts ample vertical space, with sunlight slanting down gently from the ceiling, shining exactly on the surface of the kitchen table. Thanks to the light and shadow, the space has seemingly become her stage, where she prepares her poetic Japanese confectionery blending tradition and novelty. There we feasted our eyes on her demonstration while listening to her story. 

在京都成長、學習的杉山小姐,承襲古都文化的氣息,一些傳統工藝如影隨形地陪伴著她成長,因此,從來沒有特意學習製作和菓子的她,對背後的美學意識沒有感到陌生,對於和菓子的「一個名字,一個世界」更有很深的感受。為此,在大學修畢語言學之後,她開始一邊工作一邊自學,進入和菓子的大千世界。沒有師從一個什麼地方,她的知識都是來自觀察及發問;她啟發自傳統,尊重傳統的技藝,同時亦敢於創新,把自己對於自然的感悟放諸於作品當中。在創辦「御菓子丸」之前,杉山小姐與友人内田美奈子小姐曾經成立名為「日菓」的創作菓子店,而當時的作品多從傳統出發,以日常生活所見的事物來設計造型,顏色和味道上卻離不開傳統的框框。在獨立發展之後,杉山小姐更在意自然之物,無論外貌和味道都希望重現原始的自然之美。「存在與消失之間的無常是我經常思考的事,在菓子被進食過後的『無』,似乎帶來更強大的味覺存在於人們心中。」這一番充滿禪意的話是她一直在創作和菓子的信念。

Having grown up and studied in Kyoto, Ms Sugiyama has inherited the cultural air of this historical capital, with her growth closely accompanied by some traditional crafts. Even though she had never made a deliberate effort to learn Japanese confectionery, she was already familiar with the aesthetic sense behind and had even developed deep feelings towards the little worlds represented by each name in Japanese confectionery. Thus, after finishing her linguistics studies at university, she ventured into the boundless world of Japanese confectionery, self-teaching herself outside work. Without serving any apprenticeship, she has acquired her knowledge from her own observation and by asking questions. Drawing inspiration from traditions, she respects traditional techniques while at the same time daring to break new ground through incorporating her perception about nature into her creations. Before establishing Okashimaru, Ms Sugiyama co-founded a creative confectionery store called “Nikka” (日菓) with her friend, Minako Uchida. Most of the creations at the time were based on traditions, designed with reference to objects found in daily life. However, when it comes to color and taste, they failed to break away from the frame of traditions. After becoming independent, Ms Sugiyama has been paying an ever closer attention to objects in nature and hopes to recreate the beauty of nature in both appearance and taste. “I often ponder over the uncertainty between existence and disappearance. The ‘nothingness’ following the consumption of confectionery appears to leave behind an even stronger taste in our mind.” This zen-style utterance corresponds to her long-held belief in the creation of Wakashi.

在那細長的廚房內,杉山小姐小心翼翼地準備材料,為我們展示一次生菓子的製作過程,只是這一次,她用上的是來自西式製作蛋糕的技法,把白小豆及甜菜糖混和而成的粉泥,放在用來擠忌廉的布袋中,一邊轉動碟子,一邊一下一下地擠出細小形狀的花瓣。整套動作充滿著職人的節奏,看上去乾脆俐落,實際上卻是長時間累積、鍛鍊的成果,而這種和洋結合的做法也許在這奇妙的古都環境下才能出現。花瓣底下是球形的豆泥,當中加入了清酒作為調味,一口咬下去,除了軟綿綿的觸感以外,更是甜度適中、帶有芳香酒氣的味道。

Inside the long, narrow kitchen, Ms Sugiyama carefully prepares the ingredients for showing us the process of making fresh confectionery. However, this time, she employs the techniques of western pastry by putting a paste prepared by mixing small white beans and beet sugar into a cloth piping bag for whipped cream. She gradually pipes one after another little flower petal while turning the plate. As a whole, her movements are rich in artisan rhythm, looking crisp and clean, but are in fact the fruit of a long period of practicing and accumulation of experience. Perhaps this method of combining Japanese and western techniques is only possible against the background of this enchanting historical capital. Placed under each petal is ball-shaped bean paste seasoned with Japanese sake. Apart from its soft and fluffy texture, a bite in the mouth releases mildly sweet flavors accented by the aroma of alcohol.

在她的種種作品當中,有著一系列造型別緻、著眼於周遭的自然景物,而且形神俱似的和菓子。名為「礦石果實」的柚子口味琥珀糖相信是最為人S所認識,脆薄的砂糖包裹著帶有柚子香的寒天;每一粒再以拾回來的烏樟樹枝叉著,婉如樹上結著的礦石一樣,在陽光底下透射出迷人的光線,好不浪漫,放入口之前如不細意欣賞實在有點暴殮天物。另一方面,杉山小姐摒棄使用人工色素,菓子的所有色彩和調味都是來自天然食材,紫色的是芋頭、黃色的是柚子,因此每一件作品的外觀都是淡雅樸素,甜度更只有傳統和菓子的一半,十分適合現代人的口味。

Among her various creations, there is an exquisite collection focusing on, and bearing resemblance in both form and spirit, to objects in surrounding nature. The most well-known one is probably the yuzu-flavored “Kohakuto”, or amber sweets, named “Ore Fruit”. A thin layer of crispy sugar envelops agar with yuzu fragrance, and each is pierced with a comphor tree branch picked from the wild. They look like ores grown on trees, reflecting gorgeous rays under sunlight, radiating romance. It would be an utter waste of such gifts from nature if one failed to admire their beauty before consumption. Moreover, Ms Sugiyama also refrains from using artificial colorings. All the colors and seasonings from her confectionery come from natural food products, as in taro’s purple and yuzu’s yellow. That is why each and every one of her creations are simple and subtly elegant, carrying only half the sweetness of traditional Japanese confectionery, thereby suiting the appetite of modern-age people.

與杉山小姐交談的過程中,深深體會到另一種京都人的特質,她們執著於傳統卻敢於追求創新,吸收過去的文化養份,然後把對自然的敬愛放於作品之中。這一趟不期而遇的造訪,源自於東京「森岡書店」的一個出版展覽,杉山小姐繼過往出版一些刊物後,首次以個人身分製作了一本關於和菓子的個人作品集,訴說創作背後的點滴,書內收集了二十五種和菓子的製作意念及細節,文字以英日雙語描述,向所有人分享她獨一無異的和菓子世界觀。

Our conversation with Ms Sugiyama gave us a deep impression of another characteristic of Kyoto people. They value traditions yet dare to strive for innovations; they absorb cultural nutrients from the past and then put their love and respect towards nature into their work. This unplanned visit was thanks to an encounter at a publication exhibition by Morioka Bookstore in Tokyo. Following some publications in the past, it is the first time that Ms Sugiyama put together her personal collection on Japanese confectionery in which she shares the bits and pieces behind her creations. The book features the concept and detail of 25 different types of Japanese confectionery, written in both English and Japanese, through which she shares with the public her unique view of Wakashi.