Food

Wagashi : Japanese Traditional Sweets

In Japanese cuisine wagashi (和菓子)  are traditional sweets in contrast to yōgashi (洋菓子) which are Western sweets.

"Wa" (和) meaning "Japanese", and "kashi" (菓子) "Candy". Wagashi are often consumed in snacks associated with green tea and are often eaten during the tea ceremony. The basic ingredients are cane sugar, azuki beans, rice or wheat flour and kudzu or agar for jelly. It is possible to buy wagashi all year round and throughout Japan, but some are seasonal or regional. During the sakura season (April) wagashi are eaten more than usual. Since many wagashi brands know how to shoot well during the tourist seasons, you have to taste all these delicacies to get the best of it and find the best!

Monaka (最中)

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Monaka is a Japanese sweet made from wafers filled with sweet azuki beans. In some cases, azuki bean paste can be replaced with sesame jam, hazelnuts or rice paste (mochi). Modern versions also exist, using ice cream instead or in addition to azuki beans. There are several forms: square, triangular, or in the form of flowers (cherry trees, chrysanthemums,). Monaka is a pastry traditionally served at the tea ceremony. There are still many shops in Japan that are specialized in monaka.

Yōkan (羊羹)

Yōkan is a sweet japanese pastry made from Japanese red bean paste, gelled with agar.  Yokan look like fruit paste, but are much finer and they are often eaten with a cup of tea. Originally it was a Chinese gelatin confection made from the gelatin from boiling sheep. It was introduced to Japan by Zen Buddhists but as Buddhism forbids killing, they replaced the animal gelatin with wheat flour and azuki beans. Agar came into use after it was discovered around 1658, in Japan. This variation became the basis of modern yōkan.

Warabimochi (わらび餅)

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Warabimochi is a sweet based on vegetable gelatin and covered with kinako (roasted soybean flour) or kuro mitsu (black sugar syrup). Warabimochi is a local specialty of Kansai. Since the fern grows in the spring and takes several weeks to extract starch according to the old processes, it is a dish served in summer. It is supposed to evoke the sweet atmosphere of ancient times to the Japanese.

Taiyaki (たい焼き)

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Taiyaki is a very famous Japanese fish-shaped cake. Most of the time, it is stuffed with anko, a paste of sweet red beans. Other toppings include pastry cream and chocolate cream. Taiyaki is made using pancake or waffle dough. The dough is poured into both parts of a fish-shaped mold. The filling is then placed on one side of the mold, then the two parts are closed. To finish, it is cooked on both sides until it becomes golden.

Sakuramochi (桜餅)

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Sakuramochi is a sweet consisting of a sweet pink mochi and red bean paste, and covered with a lightly salted Japanese cherry blossom (sakura). The sakura leaf is supposed to have antiseptic virtues. In fact, this wagashi has the reputation of eliminating the bacteria present in the mouth, including those causing dental caries.

Amanattō (甘納豆)

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Amanattō is a Japanese confectionery. They are azuki beans or other legumes, cooked in a sugar syrup, dried and finally rolled in fine sugar. This candy, first known as amananattō (甘名納糖), was first created by Hosoda Yasubei, during the Bunkyū era (1861-1863), before its shortened name in amanattō, after the Second World War.

Daifuku (大福)

Daifuku is a Japanese candy which consists of a mochi, whose outer paste is made of sticky rice, filled in its center with red bean paste. Most daifuku are covered with a thin layer of kinako. There are many types of daifuku some versions contain large pieces of fruit, a mixture of fruit and anko or even melon dough. While mochitsuki is the traditional way of preparing mochi and daifuku, they can also be prepared in the microwave.

Dango (団子)

Dango is the Japanese name for a pellet made from mochi, a paste of sticky rice and water. It is often served with green tea. Dango are eaten all year round, but there are varieties corresponding to certain seasons and parts of Japan. It is most often eaten on a skewer of three or four dango.

Dorayaki (どら焼き)

Dorayaki is a Japanese pastry very famous tasteful and popular among teenagers. In Japanese, dora means "gong", justifying the shape of this wagashi. It consists of two pancake dough, wrapping a garment of red bean paste called anko. Originally, this pastry had only one layer. The present form was invented in 1914 at the Usagiya pastry shop in Ueno, a district of Tokyo.

Wagashi and the five senses 

Wagashi are experiences which test our five senses.

・Taste : the flavors that delight the palate.

・Smell : subtle fragrances of natural ingredients which do not alter in any way the delicate fragrance of the green tea accompanying their tasting.

・Touch : when you cut the cake with your hand or a small wooden pick sensation when in the mouth. Each cake has a gustative and tactile texture of its own.

・Sight : the beauty of the colors and shapes used, evoking the seasons and leaving the pleasure to the imagination of varied dream landscapes.

・Hearing : the ear evoking the seasons, dream scenes, legends or even historical episodes. 

This is how wagashi stimulate our five senses. What are you waiting for to taste those marvelous Japanese sweets ?

More informations about Japanese famous food on our article here!