When you think of Japanese food people usually think of rice, noodles, or sushi. Sweets rarely come to mind when people unfamiliar with Japan image the cuisine. Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets made of traditional ingredients such as mochi (rice cake) and anko (paste made of azuki red beans). But with so much choice, what to buy and where to go in Tokyo?
Many people who are interested in Japanese culture have perhaps watched anime or drama and learnt about some of the things that Japanese people enjoy eating. One of the most familiar Japanese treats is mochi, glutinous rice balls. Especially during sakura season, the mochi comes into its own with sakura mochi, usually a pink mochi ball wrapped in a sakura leaf. The taste is slightly sweet and the balls have a sticky and a bit chewy consistency.
during Sakura matsuri (spring festivals), at any convenience store or supermarket.
Another favourite festival type food is the taiyaki, fish shaped dough with a filling. Taiyaki can come with a number of fillings: chocolate, cream, or anko paste. These are great for eating while walking around at a Japanese festival. Taiyaki can be bought at specialised shops and in festival stalls.
Try the oldest taiyaki shop in Tokyo, Naniwaya sohonten in Asakusa.
Anyone who has watched Naruto will recognise dango, small steamed dumplings on a skewer. Often seen at festivals being roasted and topped with red bean paste, dango are best enjoyed when freshly made.
Oiwakedango Honpo, Shinjuku
Namagashi (fresh wagashi) are unique sweets, it’d be hard to find something similar elsewhere, or anything to rival their beauty. They are best enjoyed with a cup of bitter green tea, as the sweet wagashi matches well with the slightly bitter tea. The main ingredient is anko or red bean paste, which are sweetened by being mashed with sugar.
As with many aspects of Japanese culture, wagashi change to match the seasons and specific festivals throughout the year. Momiji-manju are for the autumn, and blossom shaped wagashi are for spring.
Although delicious, other wagashi such as dango, cannot be called art. However, namagashi are created so beautifully that it is almost a shame to eat them. Crafted out of rice flour and filled with bean paste, namagashi are painstakingly made in a variety of beautiful shapes.
These places are just a sample of where you can buy wagashi in Tokyo. Explore, look through shop windows and don’t miss the opportunity to visit festivals to enjoy traditional Japanese wagashi. Enjoy!