Saturday, January 20, 2024

Weekend Cooking: Sweet Bean Paste

Sometimes I just need a palate cleanser in my reading - something that is easy to read and just makes you feel good, and this is exactly what Sweet Bean Paste provided. Originally written in Japanese, and translated by Alison Watts, this is a book which apparently is a Book Tok favourite alongside Before the Coffee Gets Cold and the sequels which I have previously read.

Sweet Bean Paste tells the story of a man named Sentaro. He works in a dorayaki shop where he spends all day making these pancake style treats which are filled with a sweet bean paste. It's fair to say that this isn't what he thought he would be doing, but given his past he doesn't have a lot of choice. He still owes the owner of the shop money. He gets up every day, makes the batter, sells the doriyaki and then goes home and drinks too much. 

Before I talk about the book I thought I would share a video to show exactly what a dorayaki is and how it would be made

One day Sentaro is at the shop when he is approached by an elderly woman to ask if she can work in the shop. The shop owner has veto over who Sentaro can hire and he knows that she would never agree to hiring the old woman, and not only because she has gnarled hands. Sentaro politely declines and offers the woman a dorayaki. She asks if he makes his own sweet bean paste, which Sentaro does not as that would be too much work.

The next day the woman, whose name is Tokue, comes back bringing with her the best tasting sweet bean paste. Sentaro agrees to let her come to the store and make the paste each morning, even though it means he has to get up earlier than normal. Soon the customers are flocking to the store each day, which pleases the owner no end. Among the regular customers is a young woman named Wakano who eventually plays an important part in the story. providing a further cross generational aspect to the story.

As Tokue works alongside Sentaro, she shares the wisdom she has learnt over the years, including the importance of taking the time to observe the natural world around him, inluding all the cherry blossom trees that line the road outside the shop. She teaches him the secrets of making the paste, of listening to it to determine when to take the next step in the process.

It isn't long though before people begin to notice Tokue's hands and suddenly the customers stop happening. It turns out that Tokue had Hansen's Disease (also known as leprosy) as a young woman and so people are afraid of her. Soon the owner notices and insists that Sentaro must send Tokue away.

There are so many reasons to love this book. The friendship between Tokue and Sentaro is beautiful. She helps Sentaro begin to deal with his past and to build an intent in him to have more belief in himself and passion for what he does! We also learn about Tokue's life. When she was diagnosed with Hansen's disease as a young woman she was institutionalised and so she has lived most of her life shut away, so for her the idea of being able to work in the little shop brings her intense joy.

This is a study of friendship, of food, of prejudice and it is a beautiful read.

This book was also made into a film back in 2015, so not long after I finished the book I watched the movie. The title of the film is An, or Sweet Bean. The movie is a lovely way to spend a couple of hours. I was surprised by the dorayaki shop and how it looked. I imagined a much darker shop, maybe similar to the cafe from Midnight Diner.

I enjoyed both reading the book and the movie and highly recommend both. I actually read and watched this movie mid last year, and wrote this post at the time, but I decided to hold onto it so I could share it for Weekend Cooking as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza

Here's the trailer for the movie 

I actually had an opportunity to try doriyaki when I visited the Japanese Gardens in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in November. It was delicious!!

I am sharing this review with the Japanese Literature Challenge, Translated Fiction Challenge and Foodies Read.

Weekly meals

Saturday -  Takeaway
Sunday -  Vietnamese Baked Chicken
Monday - Herbed steak and potatoes
Tuesday - Pressure cooker spaghetti bolognaise
Wednesday - Takeaway
Thursday - Rioja Beef Ribs
Friday - Away

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. This sounds like a perfect book/movie combo for our Lit Happens and Movies and Munchies groups. Thanks for sharing. I just happened to have a cookbook review on my blog today.

  2. We are knee deep in cold here in East Texas, just about anything warm looks great to me! We have a family movie night and shared dinner once a week or so, this would be a fun one to suggest. Have a great week ahead, and maybe you could share the recipe for the Vietnamese Baked Chicken, I am always looking for a new way to cook chicken!

    1. Here's a video which is a how to on the Vietnamese Chicken

  3. The book sounds off my usual path, but a good one. I'm reserving it at our library.

    1. Thanks for sharing your link with us at Weekend Cooking! I really appreciate it!

  4. I hope you like it Camilla!