Thursday, 4 August 2016

Types of Wagashi

Hello! ♡
"Wagashi" is used to refer to traditional Japanese sweets. You might be familiar with some of them, such as dorayaki or dango. It does not refer to modern Japanese sweets. It covers a wide variety of lovely sweet things, so I can't cover them in one post- but I will write about more types of wagashi in future posts!

Where did wagashi come from? Historically, in Japan the word for sweets, kashi, was used to refer to fruit and nuts. When India began producing sugar, China learnt from them and began trading sugar to Japan. The Japanese started to use sugar in the production of confections when the trade increased. During the Edo period, the creation of wagashi developed significantly, with many Chinese influences. East Asian confections have many ingredients in common, such as red bean paste and agar.

Wagashi is often served with tea, such as matcha, particularly those made with mochi, anko and fruits. Most ingredients in wagashi have plant origins.

As I mentioned before, there are many different types of wagashi, and in this post I'll go over four of them. In the near future, I'll also post recipes for some of them!

Mochi are traditional Japanese rice cakes, made with Japanese glutinous rice flour (mochiko or shiratamako) or mochigome, Japanese short-grain glutinous rice. Mochitsuki is the traditional ceremony in which mochi is made, by pounding the aforementioned glutinous rice into a paste, then moulding it into different shapes. Mochitsuki is a very important traditional event before the New Year, performed at the end of December. The glutinous rice for this ceremony is soaked in water overnight, and steamed. There are many types of mochi, it is used in various confections, and also dishes such as soups! Kagamimochi is a traditional New Year decoration. It consists of two round, slightly flat mochi placed on top of each other, the bottom one being larger. The top is decorated with a Japanese bitter orange and some other decorations. A few days later, the mochi is broken and shared- bear in mind that the mochi is hard and quite difficult to break. "Kagamimochi" literally translates to "mirror cake". Kagamimochi sits on a stand called sanpou, over a sheet called shihoubeni.
Image credit: midorisyu on Flickr

Dango is a type of mochi, and there are several types of it. It can be made by combining mochiko or shiratamako with water and sugar, moulding the mixture into balls, and then boiling them. Dango has a bouncy and chewy texture, and can be sweet or savoury. Three to four dango are served on a skewer. It is traditionally served with green tea, such as matcha. There are some seasonal varieties of dango, such as hanami dango. Hanami Dango is traditionally eaten during flower viewing season- March, April and May- depending on the region.
It has three colours- green, white and red/pink. Traditionally, the pink colour is given using anko (sweet red bean paste), the green using matcha and the white dango is either not coloured, or lightly coloured using eggs. It's hard to beat sitting under the cherry blossoms, eating Hanami Dango and drinking matcha tea, on a warm Spring day. Hanami Dango has a sweet taste. Mitarashi Dango is not coloured, and three to five are served on a skewer. Alone, they don't have much flavour- however, they are eaten with a sweet glaze consisting mainly of soy sauce. They have a characteristic, burnt fragrance.
It is said that Mitarashi dango originated from the Kamo Mitarashi teahouse in Kyoto, from the bubbles of the mitarashi (purifying water found near shrine entrances) of the nearby Shimogamo shrine. Dango can also be eaten in many different ways- such as during Tsukimi, with anko or Chichi dango.
This image is mine.

Yet another mochi wagashi! The name daifuku means great luck, and traditionally it is mochi with a filling of anko. However, there are many different types of daifuku, with fillings ranging from strawberries to chocolate. Daifuku is sweet, round mochi and can be made quite easily with the use of a microwave. Daifuku is often red/pink, green or white. Daifuku is often dusted with corn or potato starch, which stops it from sticking to each other and the consumer's fingers! Ichigo Daifuku is a popular springtime treat. It is daifuku with a filling of strawberry wrapped in anko, though sometimes it might be made without the anko. Yukimi Daifuku is mochi with a filling of ice-cream, making it a perfect summer treat. Ume Daifuku has a filling of sweetened Japanese apricot, and there is even daifuku with a coffee filling! Sometimes, daifuku is covered in sugar or cocoa powder.  My favourite daifuku is matcha daifuku- both the mochi and filling are matcha flavour.

This image is mine.

Dorayaki is two American-style pancakes sandwiched together, with a filling in the middle. Often, this is anko, however there are many other fillings- such as chocolate and custard. Originally, dorayaki had only one layer. The shape of the dorayaki we see today originated in 1914 in the Ueno district in Tokyo. The "dora" in the name means gong, which makes sense as the shape of dorayaki resembles a gong. There is a legend about the origin of dorayaki that says when a samurai called Benkei forgot his gong when leaving a farmer's home that he was hiding in, the farmer used the gong to fry the pancakes.
Image credit: dreamcat115 on Flickr
Hopefully, you have learnt a lot about wagashi reading this post! In the future I might cover four more types of wagashi, and hopefully I'll also post recipes for some of them in the future.
 Have a lovely day!

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