Although Japanese cuisine is more than normalized in Western countries, Japan's sweet side remains its most unknown facet. Beyond the repetitive desserts of the most modest restaurants - sesame ice cream or green tea, sweets with matcha and little else - it is still difficult to find authentic Japanese sweets that reflect that delicate perfection that characterizes its gastronomic culture. Why the Japanese are also very sweet tooth, although with particularities.
Who visualizes the stereotype of medium Japanese, of thin complexion and restrained character, does not imagine that behind there is a real passion for sweets. On the opposite side, those who love Japanese know that it is a real mine of goodies, chocolates and other varied temptations, with that point geek That always arouses curiosity. But in reality the most interesting of the sweetest Japan are the traditional elaborations and the mastery of the creations of the highest pastry.
The delicate perfection of the wagashi
If, when thinking of traditional Japanese cumin, we imagine many small dishes with exquisite, elegant and refined snacks, we will also be right about sweets. It is known as wagashi to the set of more traditional sweet elaborations that are much more than a simple dessert. Usually accompany the tea ceremony and they also relate to certain festivities or times of the year, varying in their flavors and aesthetics.
Made with glutinous rice flour, mochi are the best known sweets in their simplest version, with a gelatinous texture that certainly surprises the little accustomed palate. It has nothing to do with any Western candy that I have tried, but I remember that it captivated me the first time I tried one. The daifuku mochi they are rice cakes with different fillings, although the most traditional is based on anko, the sweet red bean paste azuki.
But the Wagashi world is immense and fascinating, especially in its more traditional version associated with ceremonial acts and the sense of Japanese hospitality. These sweets are not just a sweet tooth to devour for dessert or snack, they are authentic handicrafts with a certain symbolism that reflects the Japanese character and its relationship with nature.
The most beautiful are inspired by the changes of the seasons, a phenomenon of great importance in Japan, and the associated nature. The flowers, the colors, the leaves of the trees, the fruits ... all this moves to the design of mochis and other sweets that can reach extreme levels of delicacy and perfection. They are unique, delicate, beautiful and elegant bites, which are prepared as if they were works of art and must be admired with respect before being tasted.
Many rice wagashi can be found in common stores, industrially prepared or packaged in individual plastics -perfects for tourists-, but it is worth tasting a mochi of authentic artisan creation. If you are lucky enough to receive one of these beautiful temptations as a gift, you have to feel lucky and admire and appreciate each of its nuances Aesthetic and taste sensations. In Spain, those that can be found in the Takashi Ochiai pastry shop in Barcelona are top quality.
Dorayaki, Kasutera, Taiyaki and other sweet temptations
In another different category, because they are not desserts of such a careful aesthetic appearance, we can find specialties that are a little closer to our western concept of sweet. He dorayaki It is undoubtedly the best known, thanks to the fact that the character Doraemon of the manga and anime of the same name has popularized it. The dough is very similar to pancakes kind pancake, more delicate and light, and serves as a sandwich stuffed with anko in its more traditional version.
He kasutera, kastera or castella cake is typical of Nagasaki and its origin dates back to the 16th century in Europe, as it came to Japan from the hand of Portuguese merchants with the Japanese opening to the rest of the world. Is very similar to our biscuits more traditional but with a spongy crumb, somewhat peculiar texture that combines wonderfully with a cup of green tea.
Also well known is the taiyaki, especially for its striking fish shape, which is obtained by using special molds. It is actually a variation of imagawayaki, which uses the same dough but in round molds. It was a bakery that had the occurrence of creating the bream-shaped molds -tai-, formerly a very expensive fish that only the highest classes could afford. Taiyaki became very popular and today it is very typical to find it in street stalls during festivals. The dough resembles a waffle, with the crunchy exterior, filled with anko, cream or chocolate.
Another sweet that usually attracts attention is the melonpan or meronpan, with a name that does not give rise to doubts about its origin. It's about a sweet melon-shaped muffin -of the most common type of melon in Japan, the yubari- Thanks to its crispy outer layer, as well as a cookie topping. Melon aroma is often used to enhance the effect and children like it, it is also typical of festivals.
He anpan Western palates will also like it more because it is another sweet that emerged from European influence at the end of the 19th century. It was devised in the Meiji period by Yasubei Kimura, who retired from the life of samurai turned into a baker. Kimura was looking to create a western-style bun but adapted to the Japanese palate, and this was how this kind of stuffed sweet brioche, how not, of anko. It is said that he liked the emperor a lot and soon became very popular among the population.
High pastry, colorful candies and curious chocolates
With the opening of the country to the rest of the world, and especially with the increasing Western influence, the Japanese were developing a great attraction for pastry in the purest European style. No wonder considering that the world of high patisserie popularized by the French is based on complex and refined techniques, elegant designs and a great aesthetic sense. The best cakes are works of art that they can reach exorbitant prices, and in that sense Japan today has nothing to envy to Europe. There are many Japanese who come to train and work for the best European makers and restaurants.
The great Japanese cities have been filled with shop windows with creations clearly inspired by the best Parisian sweets. The Japanese reveal their sweet tooth side; It has grown a lot the fondness to indulge in some sweet or cake, which can also be used as a gift, or to celebrate a special occasion. They are works of extreme refinement and complexity, with an absolute mastery of the most precise techniques and always the maximum attention for detail, without losing sight of the importance of local ingredients.
And at the other extreme we have that madness that is the world of most commercial goodies and chocolates, we are so fascinated by Westerners. The endless varieties of KitKat or the madness of Valentine's chocolates is just a sample of all the sweets, candies, chocolates, cookies and other sugary whims that can be found in any store today. Of course, the tradition of seasonal products is maintained, with Limited editions to each region and specific times, and without forgetting the kawai touch that can be seen in almost everything.
What is your experience with Japanese sweets? What do you think about the peculiar texture of mochi? Do you dare to try the dorayaki at home?
Photos | iStock, Yuichi Sakuraba, Vincent Diamond, Norio Nakayama, anjuli_ayer, NattyQ2
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