One of my favorite parts about the Japanese food cuisine is wagashi – traditional Japanese sweets that are made in an array of shapes and textures with a variety of ingredients and preparation methods, typically enjoyed with matcha green tea. Some wagashi are only available seasonally or regionally, while some are available year round and across the country.
Whether I come across them in the supermarket or department stores, purchase them at local confectioneries, or receive them as gifts, I appreciate every bit of the wagashi experience from opening the beautifully wrapped packages to savoring the tastes and flavors. A majority of my favorites include a sweet azuki bean paste made in Japan. Here, I have made a recommendation list of my top 5 all-time favorite wagashi, in hopes that they can give you equally memorable experiences when shared with your family and friends.
My childhood favorite has been ‘monaka’, a wafer shell made from mochi and filled with sweet azuki bean paste. The wafer shells often come in different shapes and sizes, and for some that are on the pricier side, you may find shells that are intricately designed. Moreover, you will also find more modern variations of monaka which are filled with ice cream. Though my personal favorite is the vanilla variant, you can also find other monaka with different flavors of ice cream.
Another all time favorite of mine is ‘dorayaki’, a sweet azuki bean paste sandwich between two pancake-like patties with a sponge cake-like texture. Modern variations of this confectionery includes other fillings such as whipped cream, custard cream or even matcha cream. It is most delicious when freshly made and warm, so be sure to stop by a specialty street vendor when you have the chance!
‘Dango’, a love shared between my grandfather and I, is a chewy, small, steamed dumpling made of rice flour – mixed with uruchi rice flour and glutinous rice flour. They are typically round in shape and are served skewered with three to five pieces, topped with a sweet soy sauce or bean paste. They can also be added into other desserts commonly with anmitsu or oshiruko. Like any other wagashi, it is best eaten fresh. You can find dango in many places such as specialty shops or department stores, or even your local Japanese supermarket!
‘Daifuku’ is a soft, round-shaped rice cake stuffed with sweet filling such as sweet red bean paste and fruits. Daifuku are commonly covered with light dustings of potato starch. Personally, my favorite daifuku variation is strawberry (ichigo) with vanilla ice cream – who doesn’t love the perfect combination of the subtle sweetness of the rice cake, the slight acidity of the strawberry and the flavorful ice cream? Daifuku is best eaten right away while it is soft and chewy, before it molds into a harder texture.
My last, but definitely not the least favorite is ‘Taiyaki’ – a fish shaped snack made of batter similar to pancake batter and filled with sweet red bean paste. Modern alternatives include fillings with custard cream, chocolate, cheese or other unique flavors. It is commonly known as a street food and can be found at street vendors all over Japan. I highly recommend eating it hot off the pan to enjoy the flavors and textures of the batter while still crispy.
So, here are my top five wagashi sweets. Which is your favorite? These exquisite pieces of art will surely add a little bit of sweetness to your busy life.