50 SHADES OF TOKYO DESSERTS | SHADE 7
For this week’s dessert adventure I decided to take you for a yummy sweet walk to the streets of Asakusa, a historic neighborhood in Tokyo. Asakusa is definitely a must-visit district. It brings together cultural sites, entertainment and dining in vibrant surroundings that are at once historic and modern. It also seems to be an ideal spot to taste some of Tokyo’s street food.
Street food culture is less prevalent in Japan compared to other Asian countries like Thailand or Taiwan. While regular night markets are relatively uncommon, Japanese food vendors take to the streets in packs during the hundreds of festivals which take place across the country each year, with some vendors moving from city to city every night. However, there is one spot where you can enjoy tasty treats any time of the year. Enter through the vermilion-lacquered majestic Kaminari-mon (Thunder God Gate) and you’ll find yourself at Nakamise-dori, a street where numerous stalls selling souvenirs as well as sweet and savory snacks line up along the way to Senso-ji Shrine, the main landmark of Asakusa and the oldest temple in Tokyo. Last week I ventured out there to take a leisurely walk along this buzzy passageway and try anything and everything that pleased the eye or attracted me by its flavorful aroma. I must say I ended up sampling quite a few of enticing sweets.
My first stop was at a cute little stall run by two sweet elderly Japanese ladies. A long line in front of it was a sign of some “good stuff” on sale. When I looked closer I saw a variety of freshly made dango on skewers. It is probably one of the most popular Japanese wagashi often served with green tea. You can get it in most grocery stores, depachika stalls or candy shops. These glutinous balls are made of rice flour and come stuffed with anything from red bean paste anko to ice-cream. They had different varieties on offer, although I opted for what looked like a caramel dipped dango. It was pleasingly warm and the texture was thick, soft and a tad gummy. Its flavor was mainly coming from the caramel that wrapped it. Quite pleasing to the palate, I must say. Definitely worth trying!
A delicious smell of freshly baked pastry coming from this stall instantly grabbed my attention. I noticed an automated machine punching out these small cakes called Ningyo-yaki (“fried dolls”) in a shape of a giant chochin lantern. They are made by cooking batter of flour, eggs and sugar in an iron mold. The shapes can differ from Hello Kitty designs to traditional shichifukujin (seven gods of good luck). I really enjoyed my little piece. Imagine a sponge cake filled with anko paste. The dough was super soft and fluffy with that delightful eggy smell. Definitely a must-try, especially when they are still warm. As you walk down Nakamise-dori you will also see Ningyo-yaki hand made using old-fashioned traditional cast iron molds on a charcoal grills. It is actually a fascinating process to watch and often times gathers quite a lot of spectators. Next, I approached this cute and seemingly popular counter selling what looked dango again, but tasted more like kuzu mochi. Again, it is starchy and the texture reminded me of marmalade. It was generously coated in slightly sweetened soy bean powder. It was quite tasty with a slight nutty taste to it. I continued my stroll and bumped into a Japanese patisserie selling some cute looking pastries as well as fake plastic ones!I spotted Japanese yam (purple sweet potato) and immediately decided to try a little bun that looked like a miniature sweet potato from the outside. It was divine! It was more starchy than doughy (if it even makes sense) and had chunks of sweet potato inside. If you like the latter then this will surely hit the spot! The following counter looked more like a refined confectionery store. I was intrigued by those glossy colorful balls and tried the yuzu flavored one. The shop assistant explained that it is made of white bean paste. I could also trace little chunks of white beans inside, but overall it was more of a soft paste covered in a yellow jelly shell. It was beautiful from the outside and had a delectable and rich citrus flavor from refreshing yuzu. Definitely recommend to sample it when you visit!
This little spot was selling rice crispies with peanut flavor. I am not a fan of peanuts, but if you are, this might be the right place for you! Last but not least, make a point to try these colorful and adorable konpeito, Japanese sugar candy. The technique for producing candy was introduced to Japan in the early 16th century by Portuguese traders and its name also comes from the Portuguese word confeito (comfit). Apparently, the Imperial House of Japan uses konpeito as a standard thank-you-for-coming gift. They taste just like rock candy and could be a wonderful souvenir to take home. The truth is there is a lot more to taste and explore not only along Nakamise-dori, but on the side streets of Asakusa as well. It’s worth noting though that culturally it is not acceptable to eat in the street while walking. In, fact it is considered rude. Thus, when you get something from the food stalls they ask you to eat it on the spot before you continue your stroll. I certainly had a lot of fun exploring this casual culinary side of Asakusa. If you decide to do the same, I would recommend having lunch first and then fill up on those sweet treats. Although, this might not be relevant for those who like to start their meal with a dessert. ;)
Where you inspired to try any of the sweets above? Which one caught your eye?