Was just chatting to my flatmate today about photographs, food, cameras and the tricky issue of the sodding thing putting (imaginary, I hope) pounds on us in every picture. When we started discussing my food pictures, what completely stumped us was how the food gets away with these very curious extra pounds. I don’t think my cakes look any more rotund or pneumatic. If I took a picture of a fairly large orange, it doesn’t look any fatter or rounder in the photograph. Why then do us, regular (as Gok Wan would say, REAL) women, after a quick but torturous snap, by some mysterious unfortunate force of technology look about 2 stone heavier, 10 inches rounder and just generally resembling an enormous juicy peach?
Very strange huh. But I suppose food just gets away with looking good. The damn thing simply looks even better on camera sometimes. They’re a natural. And so I warn you, this post is picture-heavy – for the reason that the sweets I eat look a helluva lot better than I do on camera. I totally took advantage of that.
I’m a big moaner. I moan about a lot of things. Apparently, my complaining is real hilarious too. Which is good, and sure, a bit of humour makes life so much more fun. Earlier this week I moaned about the lack of sugary things to eat in my house. And then when I went out to buy some from Minamoto Kitchoan, I moaned about the horror it presented to my thighs. On the way back home, some idiot kicked my bag of sweet treats and then of course, in the safety of my own head, I moaned about that as well. But, whilst I was eating it (after snapping like a gazillion shots), my generally grumpy alter ego went away. I was on cloud 9. Sweet treats surely brighten up anyone’s day but wagashi is just a little bit more special, in my opinion. In terms of eating it, it calls for a wholly different approach and definitely a mentally/emotionally/spiritually cleansed me devoid of any unhappy, grumpy thoughts!
Wagashi is traditional Japanese confectionary, beautifully crafted such that it has evolved into an artform of sorts, especially in Kyoto. I have always been fascinated with such confectionary. At first sight, they seem like some sort of posh nosh for imperial beings – they’re so wonderfully crafted it’s almost a travesty to think about eating it! But wagashi aren’t just eye-candy. They’re not the bimbos of sweet treats. They’re the Lady Diana of it all – gorgeous, elegant with real substance. And substance that’s all natural, non-toxic and made from plant-based ingredients such as adzuki, chestnuts and grains, seldom incorporating ingredients alien to Japanese cuisine. Typically served with tea, wagashi reminds me of the very Chinese art of consuming small light sweets with tea after a meal to improve digestion, nutrition and blood circulation; what also comes to mind is the tradition of eating mooncakes with tea during the Mid-Autumn Festival often whilst admiring the moon and the harmony of natural beauty about us.
Both calls one to indulge in all 5 senses to fully appreciate it through taste, sight, sound, touch and smell. You can savour to the fullest the flavours of the wagashi’s natural ingredients without complicating or corrupting alien flavours; the designs of wagashi are inspired by the aesthetics of nature such as the seasons or traditional Japanese art and literature and this often means you get an enormous variety of wagashi in different shapes, colours and even patterns. Also, the packaging is phenomenal. Every single wagashi is given utmost attention to detail, individually wrapped and then wrapped in boxes. Every bit is a beautiful bit of love, care and gentle sweetness; one of wagashi’s really unique appeal is the names – most of them associated with a seasonal object or phenomenon like haiku poems or alluding to a famous poetic phrase or literature; wagashi is eaten using the hands as touch is important in fully appreciating the soft, crisp or smooth textures which invite a whole new experience once you put it in your mouth; the scents of wagashi is very delicate. Although subtle, if you are patient you can quite easily identify what’s in it since only natural ingredients are used. Not overpowering and paired with equally delicate teas, (wagashi has been developed together with Japanese tea ceremony) the whole process of appreciating and consuming wagashi is the most calming experience I’ve had. I sometimes feel like I should feel a little more enlightened after – at least that’s what my Dad used to hint at after we sat about eating sweets, drinking tea, looking at the moon and our koi fishes.
At the very least, wagashi is certainly a celebration and enjoyment of simple and natural beauty at its purest. And like the gentle lapping of soft evening waves on the shore, the warm caress of a summer breeze upon your cheek, the art of wagashi is harmonious, beautiful, sublime, inspiring and almost hauntingly so.
There are 3 categories of wagashi based on moisture levels: 1) namagashi (wet confectionary) having moisture level of 30% or more; 2) han namagashi (half wet confectionary) where moisture level is 10-30% and 3) higashi (dry confectionary) with moisture level of 10% or less. I wasn’t too sure exactly which wagashi fit into which category but I tried to get a range that spread itself out over the categories.
I admit I haven’t tried all the different types of wagashi available. But within my eating repertoire, personal traditional favourites of mine have got to be daifuku, odango (small mochi balls skewered on a stick) and warabimochi (mochi traditionally made from fiddleheads [warabi] covered in kinako [soybean powder], sometimes in matcha or cocoa powder), oshiruko (hot liquid anko, rather soup-like, with small balls of mochi) and yokan (bean jelly solidified with agar). It’s always hard to really say which one I like best as they’re all so lovely in their own ways. Because there’s such a big range of wagashi, there’s always one to suit your mood too.
Note: Wagashi has almost NO ANIMAL FAT. Natural unrefined sugar is used. In terms of nutrition, wagashi is pure carbohydrates and plant protein. Awesome.
It was very difficult to choose what to get at Minamoto Kitchoan and even harder to keep myself within my budget. But here’s what I bought (I’ll let the pictures do the talking from here) :
Miyabiguruma 雅車 (Red Bean Cake with Chestnut Filling) – I’m not too familiar with this one but I think the name refers to gosho-guruma, the wheel of an imperial wheelcart of the Heian period which is a popular design on kimono as well. Hence, the pressed design onto the cake. Of a very lovely, fairy-dust crumbly texture, the sweetness is so subtle such that it doesn’t outshine the chestnut filling. It’s strange to think this cake holds up so well as a shaped wheel when it melts on your tongue almost immediately. This is a type of higashi, or dry confectionary, as it has a moisture level of 10% or less. Made of rakugan – rice flour and sugar (wasanbon being the finest Japanese premium sugar) – the texture is very light and powdery.
Kurimanjyu 栗鏝頭 (Candied Chestnut & Bean Cake) – manju are steamed cakes filled with sweet bean paste surrounded by a flour mixture, available in many shapes such as peaches, rabbits, and matsutake mushrooms. Steamed manju is influenced by the steamed Chinese mantou. Kuri manju, however, is baked rather than steamed. Chinese mooncakes will most resemble this I reckon as the doughy outer texture is soft and cake-like which has browned in the oven. Why it’s called kuri manjyu I believe is due to its aesthetic resemblance to the chestnut or ‘kuri’ and this is actually filled with chestnut paste or ‘kuri an’ rather that sweet adzuki bean paste.
Mamedaifuku 豆大福 (Mixed Bean Mochi with Anko Filling) – mochi with whole red or black beans surrounding a sweet adzuki bean filling and coated with potato starch. This is definitely my favourite out of my haul. I love anything sticky and chewy so mochi (and all its related types like dango) is my best loved type of sweet. Absolutely love the light sweetness of the outer mochi which is very stretchy and soft, indicative of the quality. I found the anko filling a little too sweet but that didn’t really bother me. Would have loved to have more whole beans in the mochi itself like I’ve seen from other mamedaifukus which are quite bumpy from the beans.
Ofukuimo お馥芋 (Sweet Potato Paste Cake) – a very dense cake made of sweet potatoes. This is commonly described as a sponge cake with a sweet potato paste filling which threw me a little because this was completely different. I could definitely taste the sweet potato in this but it was so dense, I would hardly call this a sponge cake. I loved seeing bits of sweet potato in cake which was very paste-like. Despite how dense and compact this was (into a little pink cup), it didn’t leave me feeling full-up or sick. I loved how pressing it between my tongue and roof of my mouth turned the cake almost cream-like. I know I’m not describing this well but gosh it was good, guys.
Have the pictures said it all? I hope so because recalling the exquisite tastes of these refined sweets have rendered me at a loss for words.
Tel: 020 7437 3135
Opening Times: 10:00-19:00 (Sun-Fri); 10:00-20:00 (Sat)
28 Responses to “Wagashi Heaven in London: Minamoto Kitchoan”
The Cooking NinjaThe Cooking Ninja Says:
January 24th, at 9:07 pm
I can only drool and drool over your pics and description. I’ll grow so fat living in London – lucky thing I’m not. lol!
January 24th, at 9:58 pm
Love the wagashi at Minamoto! Looks like you’ve got the wintery ones – I can’t wait till summer again as I want to try their jellies and sorbets.
January 24th, at 10:14 pm
Oh wow – great post. You know a great deal about wagashi, I’ve learnt more than one thing reading this, so thanks for enlightening me.
The miyabigururama looks fantastic, I’ve never seen that before. And speaking of cost, I’ve always wanted to try that peach jelly, but can never justify it’s price.
Sarah, Maison CupcakeSarah, Maison Cupcake Says:
January 24th, at 10:18 pm
I never heard of wagashi before, this was very informative and your pictures beautiful. I don’t believe for one minute you look 2 stone heavier in photos!!
January 25th, at 1:27 am
The Cooking Ninja: oh Pam, i’m already getting wider being in London for this short a period. I’m learning a lot from Mowie and Su-yin on where’s good to eat, and Catty’s recommended some good places for meats i like (eg. rabbit haha) GOSH. this is not gonna be any good for the waist but I’m having so much fun now. When you can, get on the Eurostar with hubby and Poppet so i can meet the dear precious and u can join in the gastro-fun!
Su-Lin: yes i did! I can’t wait to see the summery stuff as I do like the jelly-types I’ve seen from past posts on Minamoto available on the web. Although I am certain I’ll be still sticking to a lot of mochi types as jellies and konyaku aren’t my favourite! Nevertheless, i’m excited bout it. I’ll eat anything from Minamoto.
Su-yin: aww I’m glad it did! I wanted to make this post interesting and not about me waxing lyrical – it gets a bit boring trying to tell everyone how good it is so i thought just be a bit more informational and let the pics do the talking. Still a rather long one though! 🙂 The peach jelly is so pricey! but suppose you get 4 or more servings out of it?
Sarah, Maison Cupcake: Thank you Sarah! Glad you found this post informative! I was trying to be quite economical with my words. I hope I was? LOL. Sometimes I do sometimes I don’t. It’s a tricky situation. Jokes!
So SPiffy (Girl Japan)So SPiffy (Girl Japan) Says:
January 25th, at 3:09 am
Hey you!!!! So tell me Diva.. do you have a fav? I love Wagashi… although I love eating baumkuchen here too….. YUM… surprising that such a German delight became so popular in Japan.
January 25th, at 3:20 am
I think you’ve pinned on exactly what is so refreshing and lovely about wagashi; they’re the qualities that drew me to them as well. All that’s missing is the koto playing and the running stream…
Carolyn JungCarolyn Jung Says:
January 25th, at 4:50 am
I just visited a similar Japanese confectionary store in San Francisco. Yours definitely has a wider selection, though. I love the parasol-topped table, too. The Japanese treats are so delicate looking. They’re also very sweet, making them a perfect foil for some bitter green tea.
January 25th, at 7:35 am
Japanese sweets are pieces of artwork. They are so beautifully crafted and I have to tear off the packaging so gently because they are so beautiful. Really informative post! =)
January 25th, at 9:56 am
What delightful treats; I’m not very familiar with them, but they do look so tempting!
January 25th, at 10:10 am
I have taken note….very timely. I have been wanting to visit a Japanese shop in London. Thanks for the info. Love all the food….yum
January 25th, at 10:13 am
I have had the good fortune of tasting an array of tiny & most beautiful Japanese tea cakes thanks to some Japanese friends we have here. Didn’t know they were called wagashi, and now love them even more after seeing your beautiful post! The entire thing is an experience…from the wrapping paper, the art work, the precision, the colours, the marriage of flavours…Oh diva…GORGEOUS!! Waited for this post long, Davina, and it’s been worth the wait!
Jeanne @ Cooksister!Jeanne @ Cooksister! Says:
January 25th, at 12:06 pm
Oh my word… the level of attention to detail is awe-inspiring! I have never seen or heard of most of these but am now obssed with the bunny shaped ones and the Miyabiguruma. need to get myself to Piccadilly for an oriental treat! Love that they are so naturally made too.
SImply LifeSImply Life Says:
January 25th, at 1:52 pm
Wow everything there is so new to me – looks great!
January 25th, at 2:09 pm
I love your pictures. Sadly I’m more than miles away from any Japanese sweets store. But I can shed some light on the “Baumkuchen” thing. 🙂
Baumkuchen is actually a German / Austrian Invention. Here in Germany you get it in almost every confectionary shop. Allegedly, the first recipes for Baumkuchen date back to the 15th century. Other Central and Northern European countries also have similar cakes. The German Baumkuchen however was brought to Japan in the early 20th century. Try some with a cup of coffee. It’s delicious!
Lee Ann FosterLee Ann Foster Says:
January 25th, at 2:37 pm
Thank you once again for a most informative and curious post. The broad scope of your inquiries, the artful phrases you pen and the photo tales, all make for a good read.
Sweets at VickySweets at Vicky’s Says:
January 25th, at 2:45 pm
Oh wow, this is such an interesting find! I’m heading to London (FINALLY) in July, so I’m definitely going through your entire archive for the best place to visit. Hopefully my budget will allow for it!!!:)
January 25th, at 3:25 pm
you make me miss london so much with your beautiful pictures and writing!
January 25th, at 3:36 pm
So Spiffy: i definitely have my favourites. It’s hard to say i have just ONE favourite. That’s totally impossible! I love my mochi, daifuku, dango and manju. Oh that’s a difficult question now. I love em all!! Baumkuchen, never had it but Evi here left me a lovely comment telling me what it is. Will have to go looking for it for a taste!
Manggy: you are so right! when i was eating them whilst sipping tea, I suddenly thought I need to sit in a Chinese ting, practise my calligraphy with my dear ol’ Paps and all that. 😛
Carolyn Jung: The parasol table was beautiful. I think we’re allowed to book tea ceremonies and experience the whole she-bang there. Definitely meant to be paired with top quality sencha or matcha.
Sweets at Vicky’s: i’m sure you’ll be able to check out quite a few funky places! And they’re not too ridiculously priced. at least the ones that I visit because I’m really tight-budgeted too!! 😀
deeba: so glad you managed to get a taste of em. I really love these sweets. As much as I love cupcakes cookies and all that sort – wagashi has a very special place in my heart. Long-awaited? Oh you tease me, Mama.
Thank you everyone for your lovely comments.
Mowie @ MowieliciousMowie @ Mowielicious Says:
January 25th, at 10:49 pm
Oh WOW – an art form indeed. And you know all about it – brilliant. I learned so much at the same time as drooling all over the screen. Mmmmmmmm…
Lorraine @ Not Quite NigellaLorraine @ Not Quite Nigella Says:
January 25th, at 11:39 pm
Gorgeous range of wagashi you have there! Princess Diana of sweets-you are right! And whenever I give them to someone as a gift, they coo and purr over their beauty! 😀
The Little TeochewThe Little Teochew Says:
January 26th, at 2:31 am
Oh, what a post! A visual treat, really. Everything was threatening to pop right outta my screen. Gorgeous photography!!
January 26th, at 2:58 am
That must be such a great experience to walk in one of those places. I would want to buy and taste everything.
saucy smithsaucy smith Says:
January 26th, at 4:28 am
I am speechless ( and that never happens!!) But your post, your site, the photos, your writing….WOW. Thank you. I have learned something new and will be back for more!
January 26th, at 5:40 am
GASP dav – those rabbits really got me crazy! they just look like the cutest things alive! and the sweet potato cake too! im literally drooling at the pictures…. kinda brings me back to the days of doriyaki’s in college together. hee! glad to see u really scouting out the streets of london!
Iron Chef ShellieIron Chef Shellie Says:
January 26th, at 6:41 am
So true about food photography!!
Great photos by the way =)
Kitchen MKitchen M Says:
January 27th, at 6:48 am
Awww! I adore Minamoto Kichoan!! Their confectionaries are absolutely beautiful. They just opened a store in downtown SF last summer and I’ve already been there more than I should…
January 28th, at 7:52 am
That bunny is too cute to be eaten. I’m a fan of daifuku too – love them esp. chilled and soft and fresh! Oh…