The Best Sweets in Japan: 8 Desserts to Try on Your Travels
Those who know a thing or two about Japan can tell you it's a completely different world - even the food. Here we have 8 of Japan's most mouth-watering sweets.
Those who are familiar with the Japanese anime Clannad will recognize this very first entry on the list from the anime's closing song, which repeats the word "dango" again and again, and shows an adorable huge family of animated dango characters bouncing and dancing happily across the screen (the Great Dango Family).
A popular Japanese sweet as well as a street food, dango is a round dumpling made primarily out of rice flour. These simple delicacies are usually served with three or four pieces on a skewer. However, there are many different types of dango, depending on the seasoning or sauce used, so the presentation can depend on the type. Soft and chewy, dango is the perfect snack to have in either hot or cold weather!
If you're looking for something to cool you down on a sweltering hot day, anmitsu is the perfect choice of food to make. This dessert is basically a mixture of different sweets and fruits, red bean paste, jelly, syrup, and is at times served with ice cream on top (this is called "cream anmitsu"). The fruits served in anmitsu can vary according to what you want, though the usual fruits included are more of the tropical taste, like pineapples, peaches, Japanese citrus fruits (or "mikan"), and cherries. A serving of anmitsu is a surefire way to feel refreshed when you're tired and sweaty.
Although originally of Spanish and not of Japanese origin, castella is one sweet that makes it to this list because it's a very popular dessert. It is a specialty of Nagasaki, and has been included in the Japanese pastry business for hundreds of years now.
Castella is a perfectly good example of the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover", because on the outside it looks like a deceptively plain, no-nonsense sponge cake. The bread, however, is soft, rich, and moist. Also, the taste of this pastry is simple, but addictive.
Castella is very easy to find in Japan - and it's very easy to make as well!
Uiro is another Japanese delicacy with a long traditional history. The earliest found records show it being served as early as the 1700s, in the exciting Edo period. When you're craving something that isn't loaded with extreme sweetness but still tastes delicious, this is the confection to look for. The chewy uiro pieces are made of rice flour and a bit of sugar, and come in a variety of traditional Japanese flavors such as green tea, sakura, and chestnut. Nagoya is the best place to have Uiro in Japan.
Imagawayaki is yet another popular confection in Japan that is becoming increasingly popular in other countries as well. If you're ever at a Japanese festival - and believe me, that's one thing you definitely have to put on your to-do list of things to do while you're in Japan - you'll see these round cakes being readily sold in the festival stalls. Cooked in a special grill with round spaces for the cakes, imagawayaki is usually filled with scrumptious sweet azuki bean paste or custard. Other less traditional flavors are normal as well though, and you can already see a lot of these sweets being served with fillings such as chocolate or cheese.
Similar to the fifth entry on our list, taiyaki is also a common grilled bread delicacy filled with sweet azuki bean paste. The main difference is, taiyaki is shaped like a fish. If we have sweets such as anmitsu that are perfect for hot weather, we can also recommend that you buy taiyaki to warm yourself up during cold and chilly days. Like imagawayaki, taiyaki is also commonly seen during the lively Japanese festivals.
The exact reason for the fish shape of taiyaki isn't clear, but some believe that sea bream, the fish that the delicacy was made after, was an expensive option for food, and so early makers of taiyaki shaped it after the luxurious fish to let common buyers feel like they were eating a high-end pastry. Like many confections on this list, taiyaki is also available in a lot of other flavors.
We sense a theme here. Manju is, once again, made from a type of rice flour as well as azuki bean paste. Yet another delicacy with a long, rich history, manju sweets have their roots in China, where they were called "mantou" and were introduced in Japan in the 1300s. This is a confection that has been around for more than 700 years now, even longer than a lot of buildings and structures in the country! There are different types and flavors of manju available in sweet shops. There are regional manju that are made specially in a particular Japanese region with one of their main products, such as manju from Hiroshima that are shaped like maple leafs. There are also matcha manju or green tea manju, which are, obviously, colored green and have a green tea filling. Wherever you go in Japan, you'll be sure to find a lot of different manju for you to taste. And here's something to remember when you're enjoying the delicious flavors: you're eating a bit of the country's history!
The last entry on our list of Japanese must-have sweets is definitely not the least prevalent out of all these different foods - in fact it seems to be something of a parent sweet for some of our other entries. Mochi is Japanese rice cake, Like uiro, mochi is chewy, soft, and made out of glutinous rice. If you're spending your New Year's in Japan, you might see a lot more mochi in stores and on tables around that time, since it's traditionally eaten during the new year - although of course it's common throughout the rest of the year as well. Mochi isn't just used and produced in Japan. It's also a popular food in other countries, such as in Indonesia, where they call the delicacy, "kue moci".
Although you can eat as much of this sweet and tasty Japanese delicacy as you want, you have to be careful not to get too excited (or hasty) when you're eating it. Mochi is actually a cause of death as well, because of the choking hazard due to its stickiness. Always remember to eat mochi in small pieces, and cut it to bits before eating it.
When you're in Japan, you can try all of these easy to find sweets in just a day - and of course, these aren't the only delicacies that the nation has to offer. So get your stomachs ready and go for a food hunt! We guarantee that you'll always want to come back for more. Happy eating, everyone!
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