When you give food souvenirs in Japan, you don’t only consider the taste, but you also have to think of their beautiful presentations. Because of this, it becomes an easy thing for people to choose wagashi (和菓子 – Japanese confections) as they are lovely to look at. If you’re planning on giving somebody the perfect wagashi souvenir, here are 4 of some of the most beautiful creations that will surely impress the receiver.
Senbei is a type of Japanese rice cracker popular as a souvenir in Japan because of its crunchy texture. It has been loved by people over the centuries because of its addictive nature. It comes in various sizes and flavors and is often paired with tea. Most of the time, especially in the old days, people offer senbei to house guests to show courtesy. It is traditionally made using the charcoal, but nowadays, it can be produced from baking and grilling.
The first-ever recorded information of senbei in Japan was during the Tang Dynasty, an imperial dynasty of China. These were originally sweet in nature and made of ingredients like glutinous rice, potato, and the like. However, the senbei flavored with soy sauce (醤油) that is popular these days was influenced by the Edo period (江戸時代). Some of them even come with nori (海苔), an edible seaweed. Other inventive flavors of senbei such as kimchi and wasabi (わさび) have also popped up.
A famous place selling senbei is Tanuki Senbei which has various locations in Tokyo (東京), with its main store at the Azabu-Juban (麻布十番) shopping street.
Warabimochi is known by almost everyone in Japan. It is one of the most famous sweets in the Kansai region. It is a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and is covered in kinako (きな粉 – sweet roasted soybean flour). This is a typical summer sweet which is cool and translucent in nature. The real warabimochi is actually quite expensive. However, many stores in Japan sell affordable ones made from substitute starch such as potato, tapioca, or kudzu arrowroot.
Warabimochi is best enjoyed chilled. It tastes sweet, subtle, and nutty with a delicious chewy texture! If you want to buy the best warabimochi, you can head to a Gion Tokuya (ぎおん徳屋) shop as they sell the dessert made of 100 percent warabiko or bracken starch.
Yokan is a traditional Japanese jellied dessert made from red adzuki (小豆) beans, gelatin, and sugar. It often comes in block form and eaten in slices. It has two main types: “neri yokan (練り羊羹)” and “mizu yokan (水羊羹).” The mizu yokan has more water in it thus is best eaten chilled during the summer days.
Yokan is said to have evolved during the Edo period as sugar became an abundant product and people began experimenting on different sweets. Some people add green tea flavor in it, while others add chestnuts, persimmons, figs, beans, sweet potato, and so on. If you’d like to change the taste of the dessert, you can substitute honey for sugar. You can also use dark brown sugar or molasses (a viscous by-product of refined sugarcane).
One shop which has been selling yokan since the Muromachi period (室町時代) is TORAYA Confectionery (虎屋). It has been making high-quality yokan cooked with great patience and skill by wagashi artisans. It is low in fat and has a high sugar content which makes it an excellent form of energy bar. Its shelf life is also long which makes it a stable product. There are actually four sizes available in the shop: pocket-sized petite bar, medium bar, large bar, and extra-large bar. Every yokan has also been made from seasonal ingredients which make them suitable for every occasion and season. Some of their popular yokans come in the following names: Yoru no Ume (夜の梅): Night Plum, Omokage (おもかげ): Reminiscence, Shinryoku (新緑): Verdure, Awa no Kaze (阿波の風): Breeze from Awa, Hachimitsu (はちみつ): Honey, Kocha (紅茶): Black Tea, etc.
Castella is probably the best sponge cake in the country. It is a local specialty of Nagasaki Prefecture (長崎県) which occupies the westernmost part of Japan’s Kyushu (九州) Island. The cake is so fluffy and has a lot of moisture made with thick malty syrup. It is sold in long boxes usually measuring a length of 27 cm. It is loved by both children and adults because of its sweet aroma, golden brown surface, and texture. It is also a perfect gift to give to friends and families at home.
There are actually various theories regarding castella’s origin. Some people think the recipe originated in Spain and was passed on to the people of Nagasaki by the Portuguese as the name has been derived from “Pao de Castela,” meaning “bread from Castile.” They were also eaten by sailors due to their long shelf life. They only became expensive desserts during the Edo period as the cost of sugar was high.
The current castella cake is already a product of developments made by different confectioners who wanted to improve the taste. As such, it is quite common to find them in various flavors. Some of the flavors are matcha (抹茶) green tea, black sugar, cheese, and chocolate. Overtime, many shops sold castella cakes along the sides of the roads. This is just one of the examples of how foreign influences entered the country of Japan and how it gradually mixed with the local culture.
Bringing any of these perfect souvenirs will surely add joy to any home. These are not just traditional and delicious in nature, but are also presented well and are lovely to look at.