It was a beautiful hot day, so I decided to take the kid out for one of Okinawa’s most popular desserts, zenzai. And a good place to sit down, eat some zenzai, and soak up some local vibes is the Makishi Market and Shopping Arcade in downtown Naha.
Desserts in Japan, and other parts of Asia, can take some getting used to. In the west we associate dessert with super rich, super sweet things like chocolate, ice cream, cakes, pies, and tarts. But in this part of the world, where traditionally cocoa was not cultivated, desserts and sweets can be made with things like rice flour, soy bean powder, sesame paste, sweet potato, or chestnut paste, for example. They tend to not be very sweet, as you can imagine.
Zenzai is essentially a huge bowl of fluffy shaved ice, topped with sweetened red beans and often mochi, a chewy little ball made out of rice flour. Sounds weird? Don’t beat it til you try it! And when I say sweetened red beans, really, douse anything with enough sugar and it’s bound to be yummy, right?
The Kid didn’t think so. Sigh! I ended up eating it by myself. Yum! But the kind granny who ran the zenzai shop saw her look of disdain and gave her a little pack of senbei rice crackers, on the house.
Don’t worry, kid, the taste will grow on you. I promise.