Friday, November 18, 2011
Kkul Tarae (honey skein) Walnut and Chocolate Court Cake
It's also the place for you if you want to try some unique treats, and I'm not talking kimchi, which is so common these days (at least in Tokyo) that it's absolutely mundane fare. My student picked this up from a street vendor and offered it to me rather apologetically because it wasn't particularly expensive. This sort of behavior, both gift-giving and then feeling obliged to express regret about the price despite the fact that the thought really does count more than anything, is something I will always associate with Japanese people and a culture which strongly encourages generosity and modesty.
The box provides a bilingual explanation including a story about how this is a "court cake of ripened honey and malt". In the past, it was supposedly presented to the king and guests of sufficient distinction that they deserved a treat that included 16,000 strands of honey. The box goes on to say that the strands suggest prayer for longevity, health, luck and wish-fulfillment. It also says it is good cold or frozen and then enjoyed with tea.
Because I can't read Korean at all, and the web site of the manufacturer is composed largely of graphics which can't be translated by Google's translation facilities, my ability to understand the ingredients or other information about this treat is extremely limited. This makes for a "purer" experience when sampling this food because I have to rely on sensory experiences rather than on what I read, but does limit my ability to provide meaningful information to my readers. I don't even know if the "honey skein" on this is actually honey. It sure doesn't look like it.
The outside of the candy is quite firm, but not brittle. When you bite into it, it yields like soft plastic and as you chew it, it becomes more pliable and chewy. Though the box claims it doesn't stick to the teeth, it does. In the end, it takes on a consistency similar to taffy. The outer "skein" doesn't have much flavor, but lends a delicate sweetness and a lot of texture. Most of the flavor comes from the mix of crushed nuts and seeds that are on the inside. They have a nice, meaty mixture of flavors including some very marginal bitterness with a warm, walnut finish. Though the box says "walnut and chocolate", I couldn't taste any chocolate at all.
This is an unusual treat which is very hard to describe because of the "honey skein" exterior and the combination of flavors inside. It's an interesting experience, but not necessarily a "great" one. However, it definitely is not a bad one either. In Korean drinks and snacks, I have experienced very creative use of nuts and walnuts in particular. I like it, but it's not the sort of thing which is easily accessible to all palates. If you're the type who just wants some sweet which won't challenge your texture and flavor perceptions, this will likely disappoint. However, if you're looking for something a bit more interesting, I'd heartily recommend giving this a try.