Ronnie Andren
Third generation amezaikushi, Sadaharu Ishiwari.
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Saluting Culinary Traditions with Candy Animals and Sake

Meryle Evans - March 13th, 2014

There were bento boxes, a sake bar pouring 16 regional varieties of spirits, and a rare demonstration of amezaiku, the ancient art of candy sculpture, at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal last week for the kickoff of Japan Week, commemorating 100 years of the country's culture and cuisine.

“My father, and his father before him, were amezaikushi,” says Sadaharu Ishiwari, as he works a boiled rice starch syrup to a pliable consistency. Using sharp tiny scissors and chopsticks, he magically shapes small pieces into fanciful translucent animals in seconds, each becoming a kind of edible origami. Ishiwari has his own small shop in Osaka, where he trains apprentices, but as one of only about 20 amezaiku craftsmen in the whole country, he has traveled around the world demonstrating the craft.

His cats, birds, horses, and dragons delighted youngsters during the three day festival at the station, while adults lined up for ekiben—the bento box meals originally sold on trains and in train stations throughout Japan, featuring specialties like Kanazawa curry (named for the Japanese port city), and kanimeshi (crabmeat with rice) topped with salmon roe.

The government–supported Japan Week also included a performance by the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra on March 11, the third anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, while restaurants around the city are offering regional dishes until March 16. Manhattan’s venerable Restaurant Nippon, founded in 1963, is serving umami-rich Tokyo style sukiyaki. Moisu hot pot, a local casserole from Hakata-ku, is on the menu at Hakata Tonton. And Megu blends traditional and modern times with a tasting platter of Satsuma Wagyu beef sirloin sushi.