One of the trips we wanted to take over the last two years was to Japan, however, that trip was canceled due to COVID (like so many people’s trips over the past few years). However, on our recent trip to Los Angeles, we got a real taste of Japan at the Fugetsu-Do Bakery Shop (315 East First Street, Los Angeles, CA) in historical Little Tokyo Japantown in downtown Los Angeles. The Fugetsu-Do shop has been operating since 1903, and is considered the oldest store in the neighborhood, and the oldest Japanese American business in the US!
The specialty of Fugetsu-Do is mochi, made from pounded glutinous rice flour shaped into single-bite balls. In the US, mochi are often popularly filled with ice cream. However, in Japan, the filling is usually red bean, or simply the mochi itself is served unfilled, and can lean either savory or sweet. Also available at Fugetsu-Do are manju, treats made from cake flour. At the helm of Fugetsu-Do is Brian Kito, third-generation owner, and master confectioner. Inside the shop, there are well-worn bakery cases filled with a myriad of multi-color mochi, which you can buy by the piece, or in prepackaged sets of enticing rainbow-coloredwagashiconfections perfect for tea.
Among these choices are some traditional flavors like inaka or habituai (filled with red bean paste) or kiku (filled with white bean paste). There are also more idiosyncratic and colorful flavors like peanut butter, blueberry, or mango. In the springtime, the pretty pink cherry blossom Sakura flavor is particularly popular, and often sells out quickly.
The texture of the mochi was amazingly smooth and chewy. We also liked the mix of traditional and more avant-garde flavors. The store accepts credit cards only over a certain amount, so you should bring cash. If you are not able to get to LA, you can even buy Fugestsu-Do mochi online. We are so glad we got to visit Fugetsu-Do, and taste a living piece of Los Angeles history. The stores of Little Tokyo were hit hard by the pandemic, so we encourage you to give them a visit as well (either in person or online).
When we were in LA and San Francisco this past month, one of our goals was to find the best Matcha latte in each city (and across both). Matcha is powdered green tea, made from specifically shade-grown tencha tea leaves. At, home we make our own matcha drink every morning using Sugimoto Tea Reserve Mizuki Matcha, however, we are always on the lookout for good tea on our trips. After our searches, we can say hands-down that our favorite matcha stop on our most recent trip was Third Culture Bakery(2701 Eighth St, Berkeley, CA 94710).
Third Culture Bakery is the brainchild of Sam Butarbutar and Wenter Shyu, who wanted to pay homage to their upbringings in Indonesia and Taiwan in the cafe’s flavors. Third Culture has a variety of matcha lattes ($5), and you can get all kinds of add-ins, including caramel and strawberry lychee for and extra 50 cents. My personal favorite was the caramel swirl, seen in front here. There was also an unusual offering – the roasted matcha latte ($5) – which has a tan hue, and a roasted hojicha-like flavor. At Third Culture, they prepare the matcha in a traditional bowl with a whisk, which is one of the tell-tale signs that you are getting a made-from-scratch matcha latte and not a powdered mix. The matcha itself is also very high quality – smooth and not bitter at all – and you can taste the difference in every sip. If you want even finer matcha, you can order a special ceremonial-grade matcha ($7).
For those looking for options other than matcha, there are also cold brew or pour over coffee selections, and even some decaffeinated options like sodas with house-made syrups. The other key offering at Third Culture Bakery are their mochi baked goods (made from sweet michiko rice flour), which have gotten a certain amount of fame in the Bay Area. You can get mochi muffins in flavors like black sesame (pictured in front above), ube, chocolate, and matcha, alongside mochi doughnuts and waffles. We are particularly fond of the mochi muffins, especially the chocolate, and the “original” flavor (seen in back, above), which is lightly scented with pandan and topped with black and white sesame seeds. These mochi treats have a delicious chewy texture, and a savory heft that complemented the sweetness.
The inside of the shop is cute and colorful, with a small selection of merch, and a large kitchen. You can enjoy your treats to go, or sit outside on a row of outdoor seating built into the steps between the store and the sidewalk, which we happily did on a lovely sunny day. We highly recommend Third Culture Bakery, since we have tried a fair number of matcha lattes in the past few years, and this is definitely our favorite so far. We love their mission, style, baked goods, and most importantly, their matcha!
A few years ago in Chicago, our friends shared kagami mochi with us, one of the many traditional foods and decorations used to celebrate the new year in Japan. Kagami mochi, meaning “mirror mochi,” is a two-layered stack of white mochi (pounded rice cakes), topped with a citrus fruit, usually a daidai or mikan. A symbol of the new year for centuries, they are called mirror mochi because they somewhat resemble old copper mirrors, and the double stack is considered auspicious. The kagami mochi may be simple stack, or may sit on wooden stands (sanpō) where they are festooned with paper chains (gohei) and other accoutrements. In Japan you can buy kagami mochi throughout December pretty widely, and you can also find it at some Japanese grocery stores in the US. If you don’t have access to this, you can make your own mochi at home. It is then considered auspicious to then “break” the mochi (kagami biraki) and eat them on January 11th!
Emojis have saturated our texts and tweets, and everyone is familiar with perennial food favorites like the coffee cup and the bowl of noodles. Some food emojis are more esoteric, however, and we needed a little help to decipher them (most are Japanese snacks that are not as common in the US). However, Bon Appetit may have just uncovered the most esoteric food emoji of all: an emoji with a moon, grass, and what appears to be a basket of eggs. However, this emoji actually references a fall Japanese moon-viewing ceremony, Tsukimi. And the basket doesn’t contain eggs, it is full of mini mochi (rice cakes)! Tsukimi is celebrated to honor the autumn harvest, and includes food, drink and tables covered with tall grasses, and bowls of mochi and chestnuts. Yum!
Welcome to Eating the World! We’re two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.To contact us for partnerships or just to say hi, email us at eating the world (at) gmail.com
Eating The World · We're two Midwestern omnivores, L and M, who are trying to eat food from every country in the world (at restaurants in both the US and abroad). Eating the World is where we update our global restaurant and food adventures. We are based in Cleveland, Chicago and beyond.