Wagashi: Japanese sweets >>Find Japanese Sweets & CafesWagashi are traditional Japanese sweets. They are often made with anko (sweet red bean paste) and mochi (sticky, white rice flour, also slightly sweet). The traditional methods used to make wagashi avoid the heavy use of spices, dairy products, and animal fats, but do use a lot of vegetable proteins and fibers, so the treats are generally considered to be good for one's health, in addition to just being a tasty, aesthetically pleasing snack.
These sweets have been traditionally connected with Japanese tea ceremony and are widely thought of as a snack which is appropriate to serve with Japanese green tea, so wagashi aren't only about the flavor; it's also important for them to be appealing in terms of appearance, and to have a pleasant texture when you eat them. Many wagashi, therefore, are formed into natural shapes to harmonize with traditional Japanese tea ceremony's ideals about nature. Consequently, you often see wagashi shaped like leaves or flowers, and other ‘natural' forms. Even today, wagashi are often made by hand using traditional methods, so they've come to be called “the flowers of Japanese food culture” for their cultural connections and the artistic mastery that must go into their creation.
FlavorThere are many, many kinds of Japanese sweets, but, as they're often served as tea-cakes with Japanese tea or matcha (Japanese green tea made from ground tea leaves), most of them are quite sweet to balance the tea's bitter flavor. They're considered to be a very high-end food and are widely popular regardless of age or gender.
Good as a souvenir >>Find Japanese Sweets & CafesA few of Japan's specialty wagashi houses, also have areas that were designed to serve tea. After you've tried wagashi, and you've found that you like it, then maybe a set of Japanese sweets would make a good souvenir. Some wagashi houses that also serve tea are:
Must try sweetsThe sweets listed below are all good representatives of the soul of Japanese traditional culture (and the Japanese sweet tooth); definitely give them a shot at least once:
Daifuku:Anko (sweet red bean paste) wrapped in mochi. Even among wagashi, it's very popular. It's even possible to buy daifuku at your corner convenience store.
Monaka:Anko wrapped in a skin made of mochi. Kuuya's monaka is especially famous and sell out ridiculously quickly. Kuuya doesn't accept reservations or delivery orders either, so if you want monaka from Kuuya and they run out, you just have to go back and try again the next day.
Dorayaki:Anko is covered by two slices of sponge cake. Dorayaki is the favourite food of Doraemon (a character from a popular children's anime) and it also extremely popular with Japanese people. Finding someone who only know it from the anime but had never eaten it themselves would be next to impossible. This one is also frequently available for sale in convenience stores, as well as higher-class wagashi shops.
Youkan:Anko frozen in agar (marine grass gelatin). Youkan has a very unique texture. The first time you try it, you'll probably either love it or hate it. Toraya, in particular, is well known for its special youkan.
Anmitsu:Anko mixed with sea-jelly or fruit. Also a must-try!
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