A student of mine had brought it back from a business trip to Kyoto and placed it into my hands as a souvenir. Already, a cinnamon infused aroma emanated from the paper wrapping, and I carefully peeled it away. It was a round, pink colored…dumpling, my mind reasoned as best it could. Ordinarily, though adventurous, I’m hesitant when trying new foods. Yet, that smell was delicious in my nostrils and I tossed the treat back into my mouth. As expected, it was sweet and wrapped in a hint of spice.
The treat i’m speaking of is called wagashi, a type of confectionery traditionally consumed with tea. Okashi, which means sweets in Japanese, took on a new meaning when Japan imported sugar, tea and the methods for combining both pleasures from China and India. What emerged from that sugary cauldron is a sweet that is elegantly crafted with the sort of design and exquisite texture the country seems to effortlessly produce elsewhere. It’s been 2 years since that business English student opened my eyes and I haven’t forgotten the taste. Neither have I had the pleasure of that particular wagashi again.
Oh, there are many different types: steamed, filled with anko, which is a kind of “sweet bean paste”, stuffed with fruit, strung on sticks or even fried. Some examples include:
-Dango, balls of rice flour, strung on sticks and dipped or covered in sweet sauces, bean paste or other condiments.
–Yatsuhashi, or thin sheets of glutinous rice flour, with a cinnamon flavor. It is wrapped around anko. Famous in Kyoto, but not exactly what I had. The search continues.
–Taiyaki, anko surrounded by fried dough in the shape of a fish. Very popular. Some of the wooden moldings used to create the fish patterns are antique.
There are far too many to list here without taking away the fun of embarking on your own search. The wagashi are sometimes named after haiku poems or famous places where they were first conceived, so you’ll have to do a little digging but the finds are rewarding in taste and culture. Check out the links below for some shopping spots. Happy holidays!
– Helpful article with shopping spots: