You can tell a lot about the agriculture and staple food items of a region by taking a cursory glance at their sweets, snacks, and liquor. Here in the USA, land of the almighty corn kernel, everything is sweetened with corn syrup, we stuff our faces with corn chips, most American beer contains some amount of corn, and proper Bourbon, arguably the most American of spirits, is made exclusively from it.
To quote the late, great novelist, Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: "Harold Newcomb Wilbur got his medals for killing Japanese, who were yellow robots. They were fueled by rice." If you can wrap rice around a stick of raw fish and call it dinner then it's not too strange an idea to pummel it into a paste and call it desert. This paste, called mochi, is used as a base for many confections and sweets in Japanese candies. One common preparation, called daifuku, involves rolling the mochi into a ball and stuffing it with a sweet paste made from the red azuki beans.
Red beans and rice, eh? Sounds like the only other side item at a Cuban restaurant besides fried plantains, not a piece of candy. But trust me, this little ball of sweetness is a lot nicer than it sounds, sort of like the japanese version of a jelly donut except that eating a couple won't put you into a diabetic coma.
"What the hell is that crap?"
"Mochi!" chirped my chipper Chinese colleague, thrusting the box in my face. I reluctantly grabbed a piece and retreated to my sanctum for closer inspection.
The weirdest thing about my little mochi/daifuku sample was the strange covering of blackened sesame seeds, seaweed, and lint with some little green balls that, keeping in mind all of the unsettling ingredients in the sushi I've eaten in the past, are probably best left unidentified. I wasn't expecting much at all from this little morsel, particularly since previous experiences with Asian candies and snacks have been less than wonderful. With facial muscles tensed, I took my first bite... not bad, not bad at all. Having demolished half of my ration in one solitary nibble, I was saddened to see how little I had left to savor. Even without the strange outer coverings the mochi and red bean paste filling would have been a nice, subtly sweet treat but the addition of the complex savory flavors and crunchy texture made it a lot more interesting on the whole.
I'm going to have to hit up a local Asian food market for some interesting eats in the near future and, despite not being a big fan of sweets, I can definitely see myself picking up some more of these to stuff my face with on the drive home.