Summer in Okinawa can get pretty hot and humid. What better way to refresh than with sudachi udon? Citrusy, salty, and cold.
Sans Souci in Kitanakagusuku is a Ryukyu x Kyoto style cafe. It is no secret… everybody knows about this place! This cafe is listed in all the cafe books and travel guides for a good reason… the food is delicious! There is udon, both hot and cold, as well as a few other dishes, cafe drinks, and several Japanese style sweets options.
During summer time only they also serve sudachi udon, which is exactly what I needed today. The lunch set comes with a drinn, too.
For dessert I of course had the matcha mini parfait. It was so good… tons of matcha flavor layers.
The price is a bit high, 1550円 total, but definitely worth it for the high quality food at this trendy cafe.
Recently, a new Japanese sweets shop has opened up in Kishaba (Kitanakagusuku, central) called Yoyo an factory. As like others, it is located in the back of a small neighborhood with narrow roads. There are hardly any signs outside the house marking it, but you will see some plain white-ish shop flags in front of the door. There is space for probably about 5-6 cars to park.
Walk up the concrete stairs and step inside the old converted US military house. Inside, it is very organic and simple feeling, but very beautiful in its simplicity. There are some old wooden Japanese candy molds on display, with various shapes and designs.
You can get dorayaki and daifuku (160 yen each) to go, or you can eat-in with a drink. Your choice of drinks are coffee, ice tea, and matcha (500yen). I ordered a matcha with 1 dorayaki and 1 daifuku, with tax the total was nearly 900yen. An average price for these types of things, though maybe a little bit high. Everything was really good though. I think this was a really nice space to take a tea break, and the location is very good. If you live in Okinawa and want to try some Japanese style confections, this is a lovely place to do so.
和 wa: this has a dual meaning, “harmony” or “Japan/Japanese,” specifically the concept of peaceful unity and conformity within a social group. It is also one of the 4 tenets of Japanese tea ceremony (“wa,” “kei,” “sei,” and “jyaku” meaning harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility).
As for parking, there are some spots in front of their store, otherwise you may have to go to the pay area. The cafe menu is in both Japanese and English, offering some lunch plates (including their lunch bento of the day) as well as sweets and drinks.
As for me, I chose to get a matcha 抹茶 and a dorayaki どら焼き, the brown sugar-cream cheese-dango flavor (黒糖ちーどら kokutou chii dora). My husband opted for the daily bento with shikwasa juice.
Everything was superb, and beautifully presented. This Japanese-style is not actually as common in Okinawa as you might think, so it was a really nice change of pace.
Afterwards, I enjoyed admiring all of their matcha tea bowls (抹茶碗) with cute Okinawa inspired designs.
クロワッサンたい焼: croissant taiyaki (read here for more info on taiyaki)
Yuntaku Cafe Wan ゆんたくカフェWan is a very small “cafe” located in Kunigami 国頭村 (Northern part of Okinawa) that specializes in croissant taiyaki. It is located near the Okuma resorts.
When you first pull up, it is super charming, and there is a faithful dog who comes out to greet you. The lady inside is very friendly and has built the shop along with the various tables and such herself~~ she is a superwoman! There are some outdoor spaces for eating, or you can get takeout.
We purchased 3 taiyaki to go: sweet potato, potato salad, and bitter chocolate. We then proceeded to the seawall to indulge while enjoying the unusually beautiful weather and the view.
Anyway, these croissant taiyaki are by far the BEST I have had in all of Okinawa! It was definitely worth the drive. I definitely recommend both the sweet and the savory versions, they were all amazing. Even my husband regretted not getting more (we bought 3 total) after tasting them; he initially rolled his eyes at the idea of taiyaki when I first suggested it, but I remained firm as I really wanted to try this place after I had seen some pictures online. Once he tasted it, it couldn’t believe how delicious they were. The owner won an award for these delicious treats, and we can definitely understand why after tasting them. These are far and above soooo much better than the croissant taiyaki that the Gindaco chain serves!
Another post that has been sitting in my drafts folder for way to long. So here it is.
There are many types of wagashi. Here in Okinawa, it is difficult to find ones that are nearly as intricate, beautiful, and delicious as the mainland, but there are some places where very nice wagashi can be found. Here are a few of my “not-to-be-missed” spots:
Usagi-ya うさぎや: literally the rabbit shop. This place is lovely but easy to miss, located on the busy road Rt. 34 in Ginowan. There are flags outside that say どら焼き (dorayaki) on them, but otherwise the store front is fairly unassuming and might not catch your eye. The sweets here are absolutely lovely. You can find many types here. https://goo.gl/maps/iZSm55Yag6o Closed!
Chinen seika wagashi shikisai 知念製菓和菓子「四季彩」: Chinen Japanese confectionary “Shikisai” (4 seasons) is larger shop located in the Shuri area (there is also a second smaller location as well). This place is a very nice location to look for seasonal wagashi. https://goo.gl/maps/qHbSQ3wJkzF2
Shirobara (chain confections store) 白バラ: literally, “white rose.” This is a nice chain shop which makes it convenient since there are multiple locations. There typically is not a lot of variety of just wagashi as it is also a patisserie shop, but some seasonal items come and go. The main location is here: https://goo.gl/maps/Cfb5n4oFTKt
Miyabi Teahouse. Read about their ohagi and dorayaki in a separate post here. I recommend trying these traditional sweets with green tea in their relaxing teahouse.
Wa Cafe Nodoka: 和カフェ和花: these are sort of “modern” dorayaki, try these with a bowl of matcha, you will not be disappointed.
Special Mention: Suehiro Confectionery 末廣製菓 in Makishi market area. They have a mix of items, mostly more Western or Okinawa sweets, but some Japanese confections mixed in as well. I wouldn’t expect to find any actual fancy wagashi, but may be worth a stop if you are in the Makishi area.
Of course, if you go to the Ryubo department store in Naha, you may also be able to find several of these in one location; some are local and some may even ship in from the mainland.
So karukan かるかん is not entirely just Okinawan– it is also a famous sweet from Kagoshima prefecture (Kyushu). But it is so common in Okinawa, many people in Okinawa consider it to be an Okinawan sweet. I have not tried karukan from Kyushu, so I am not sure if the taste is the exact same as the Okinawa taste, but I suspect it is very similar.
Karukan comes in pink/red (赤) and white (白), representative colors for celebrations. In the middle is a sweet bean paste, with a somewhat spongy outside. It is steamed sweet bread incorporating Japanese yam. It is actually very delicious, and a little different from a typical manjuu 饅頭.
Karukan is very common and easy to find in Okinawa, just look in any grocery store, sweets shop, or even sometimes in the convenience store! You can probably even find it in omiyage お土産 (souvenir) shops. It is commonly places on altars during Obon, or given as small gifts during celebratory events.
金沢 Kanazawa is located in Ishikawa prefecture 石川県.
百万石祭 Hyakumangoku Matsuri: The Hyakumangoku Festival is held in commemoration of Lord Maeda Toshiie’s entry into Kanazawa castle on 14th June, 1583 (Tensho 11) which laid the foundations of the present day Kanazawa.
Summer is approaching, and we decided to take a trip up to Kanazawa for the matsuri since my mother-in-law came to Okinawa to visit us.
We flew into Komatsu Airport on Friday and from there took the bus (~45 min) to Kanazawa Station. Since there were 3 of us, we booked an AirBnb near the castle park.
Once we were settled in, we decided to check out the town. We walked towards the castle area and Kenrokuen 兼六園 (one of Japan’s top 3 beautiful gardens) where there were many museums. We looked through some ceramics shops and also ended up at the 21st Century Modern Art museum. It was fairly interesting, though no pictures inside except in the “pool” area. Overall, it was quite a nice area. Kanazawa has many beautiful traditional Japanese crafts, such as ceramics, lacquerware, cloths, as well as items adorned in gold leaf. We enjoyed seeing all of these in shops and museums.
Since the festival was starting up, there were food stalls everywhere, all with mostly typical matsuri food (yakisoba, grilled squid, takoyaki, bananas on sticks, yakitori, etc).
On Friday evening, there was the Kaga Yuzen Toro-Nagashi 加賀友禅燈ろう流し (Lantern floating ceremony). It was definitely packed with people, and I am not sure we were in the best spot by the Ashinogawa bridge, but we still got to see plenty. Since it was dark at this point it was actually very chilly considering it was the first week in June, and I did not pack appropriately. I don’t know if this was unseasonably chilly, but I would recommend pants/long sleeves/jacket/light sweater type of clothes if you go. While the lanterns were floating down the river, children’s parades were going on throughout the town. It was quite cute with them dressed up, carrying lanterns, and playing drums.
The next morning (Saturday), we wandered about the old samurai districts and went through the Nomura Family Samurai House. I stopped at every opportunity I could to look at and taste Japanese sweets (unfortunately husband and MIL are a lot less interested in these as I am).
We wound our way down to Kenrokuen (garden) which was free that day. We spent some time enjoying the beautiful grounds and buildings within the park itself. Next, we went to a tea ceremony held inside the park. I was a bit expensive (1500yen), but interesting (and delicious) for me (again, less so for husband and MIL). So perhaps I would not recommend it unless you are interested in these things.
After the park, we went over to the castle and walked all the way through. Various performances were being held in the open field for the matsuri… some traditional, some less so. There was traditional shishimai 獅子舞 (lion dance), which was different than Okinawan-style– it was so interesting! The castle was nice, though maybe not as nice as some of the other castles in Japan.
Higashi chaya-gai ひがし茶屋街, the old entertainment (geisha) district, was my next stop. I stopped at several traditional Japanese confectionaries (wagashi-ya 和菓子屋), for samples and shopping. They were are marvelous and varied. Many sweets included gold-leaf topping which Kanazawa is known for– over 98% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced here. I saw many people consuming gold leaf ice cream. Some shop keepers may speak English, but it is much easier to communicate in Japanese. There was a shop with local nihonshu 日本酒 where you could order a glass (average price 500yen) and drink; this place was filled more with young’uns who were mostly interested in getting a little tipsy, and there was not a lot of room (some people even just ordered regular beer). I simply ordered the recommended-of-the-day 本日のおすすめ, which ended up to be so-so. Next time I might skip this place unless it was less crowded. I could have stayed in this area for hours admiring all the sweet goodies, but my fellow travelers were not as enthusiastic about this. While this place was a bit touristy in some regards, it was interesting and fun for wagashi-lover like myself. During certain times of year, I hear it is possible to go to geisha shows/dinner.
In the afternoon was the main parade. We were recommended to watch closer to the park grounds than the main station where it started. It seemed to work out nicely. The first part of the parade was mostly just some local groups, but towards the middle and end was the traditional dancing, costumes, music, princesses, etc. So next time I would probably skip the first hour and just watch the last half to be honest!
We had reservations for dinner to Kotobukiya for shojin ryori 精進料理 (Buddhist vegetarian cuisine) at a ryotei 料亭 (a type of traditional Japanese restaurant). It was really quite nice, though also quite expensive. Course after course came in, and my husband and I drank nihonshu 日本酒 with it. Afterwards we were quite exhausted and all went back to the Airbnb to crash. I would have liked to go watch some of the Noh theater, but it was chilly and everyone, including myself, was tired from a long day. Maybe next time.
Sunday morning, we walked through Nishi chaya-gai にし茶屋街 old entertainment district, looping through the Temple district. The Nishi chaya-gai was much smaller than its counterpart, yet still very beautiful. Since we went early in the morning, nothing was open yet, though the children’s matsuri was getting ready for their activities in the Temple district (where we actually headed next). There are so many old temples clustered together, including the “ninja temple” (which I did not get reservations for). It makes for an interesting walk. The ninja temple requires reservations, and the tour is in Japanese. However, you can walk about the outside part, even if you cannot go in and see all the ninja traps.
Finally, after omiyage and eki-bento shopping at Kanazawa Station, we boarded the train to Tokyo for a 2.5 hour journey. Of course, I purchased some local Kanazawa beers for the train ride…
Overall, we had a wonderful and interesting time in Kanazawa known as “little Kyoto”!
三鷹の森ジブリ美術館: “Mitaka no mori Jiburi Bijustsukan” is the name of the Ghibli museum, located in Inokashira Park 井の頭公園 in Kichijoji 吉祥寺. We took an overnight trip to Tokyo, staying by Kichijoji station in order to visit the Ghibli museum (and to eat some totoro themed cream puffs!).
On the day they released tickets (10 am on the 10th of the month before you want to visit), despite the webpage crashing due to high traffic I was (barely) able to secure tickets online using the Lawson’s ticket site. Tickets are only 1000yen per person, and I was not about to try to go through some 3rd party “tour” that included a high transportation fee. Of course, the weekend tickets all sold-out in seconds, so by the time my browser got through, I was at least able to secure last entry (4pm) Friday tickets.
In May, it was the last opportunity to try out the adult-sized cat-bus, so of course I had to fulfill my life dream. This past Friday, I finally got to go to the Ghibli museum and sit in the cat-bus. And the everything about the experience was amazing!
We flew into Haneda airport in Tokyo on Friday early afternoon, arriving about 1pm. From there we jumped onto the trains towards Kichijoji station (2 transfers). The train system in Tokyo can look overwhelming, but with GoogleMaps, it has gotten so easy to navigate. We were at Kichijoji station by about 2pm; since we skipped lunch, we got a snack at the station before heading to the hotel a mere few meters away. We dropped off the suitcase in the room, and headed out to Inokashira park.
At the park entrance, we decided on some crepes from a mama-san crepe stand (husband got savory while I got a sweet blueberry cream cheese), as well as some coffee from the Honolulu Coffee Company (just like home!). We sat by the lake eating and watched the swan boats go by on the pond. After we finished, we strolled through the park, taking the long way to the museum since at this point we had over an hour to kill. The park was really nice, with lots of little surprises everywhere. At about 3:20 we arrived at the museum and there were already a few people milling near the entrance. My husband went up to the ticket taker, and he told us to be lined up at 3:30. Then he laughed when he saw my husband’s uchinaaguchi shirt from Okinawa, apparently he is a fan of Okinawa. So for a few minutes I took some pictures outside the museum, and some people started lining up. At 3:30, they started checking tickets; we received a receipt for 3:40 entrance. So, just as a tip, show up half an hour early to your ticket time and line up! I did not realize this, so I was glad we were so lucky to get in a little earlier than expected, giving us some extra time in the museum.
We entered, received our film ticket and guidance map. There are no pictures inside, only outside. I actually like this policy, otherwise it would be nuts with people taking selfies and insane numbers of photos. I won’t spoil the surprises, but all the exhibits are pretty magical, from the architecture of the house to all the small details, the drawings and sketches, the film pieces, and of course, the life-size cat-bus. It was quite beautiful, and sort of dream-like.
Originally I was unhappy with the 4-6pm entry ticket– I was hoping for an earlier entry. BUT as it turns out, I think it was actually one of the best times to enter! Why? Well, it actually started to be less busy at this time… most people with earlier entrances were finished already and were either waiting for food in the cafe or went home, so when we walked around the museum, it did not feel all that crowded. Plus, the weather was nice, so mid-way through our wanderings we ended up drinking a Ghibli exclusive beer on the patio under the trees (though be warned it is not cheap at 650yen).
Most (English-speaking) people in the online reviews said to skip the short movie showing in the Saturn Theater of the museum… I am glad we did not listen to this, because the movie showing on our trip was “Mei and the Kitten-bus” (めいとこねこバス Mei to koneko-basu). It was so cute! I feel like even with limited Japanese skills, the words were not difficult at all, and the story was easy to follow. 100% recommend. I kind of wish I bought the book in the gift shop, actually– Totoro is one of my favorites.
The last thing we did, was of course, visit the gift shop. By this point, the line was a bit long since the museum was closing at 6pm, though they had several cashiers working to make it go smoothly. We each got a museum folder, I also got a fluffy museum tenugui (Japanese towel) and a mini plushie cat-bus.
We finally had to say goodbye to the museum, leaving at about 5:50. We went through everything the museum had to offer, and obviously could have used a little more time but it ended up to be a fabulous time.
After the wandering back through the park towards the station, we looked through some of the little shops. We stopped at an Okinawan restaurant that had a lot of craft beers on tap (we did not order food there…). Afterwards I took my husband to a rather popular chain ramen joint called Mouko Tanmen Nakamoto 蒙古タンメン中本 since he had been putting up with my Ghibli and crepes. It was your typical set up, narrow restaurant with only counter seats, with a ticket machine at the entrance and a line of locals waiting to catch a seat. The menu was only in Japanese, but it is not difficult, just look for the amount of spicy you want. We were the only foreigners in there that evening (though it looked like at least one other tourist, the rest were mostly office workers). Luckily they slung ramen pretty fast, and the wait was not all that long. While we waited, we noticed people SWEATING, some even crying a little, and one poor girl had an enormous pile of tissues in front of her! This shop is known for spicy ramen. My husband got the #8 spicy ramen (the levels go to 11), and he said that was plenty spicy for him. We noticed several people bought the side of mapo tofu and added it into the ramen! I hadn’t realized this was the popular item (topping??) or I would have told my husband to buy it for himself. They had bibs for protecting your clothes, and since they were many office workers still in suits most people used one.
After finishing ramen, it was time to head back to the hotel and relax. The next morning we walked around Kichijoji and did some shopping. I also ended up trying 2 different taiyaki in the morning. Amane Taiyaki 天音たい焼き was amazing! I usually feel that most taiyaki sellers are the same, but this one was a step above probably any other I have ever had! We also ended up getting a coconut milk boba tea at the Moomin stand. Too cute!
And for one of the highlights of our trip: Totoro cream puff! On the way to Haneda airport, we stopped at Setagaya-Daita station and walked a very short distance to Shirohige Choux Cream Factory 白髭のシュークリーム工房 (the Tolo-pan Coffee and Bakery cafe is on the 2nd floor). They have some seasonal flavors, as well as custard and chocolate year-round. You can get these adorable cream puffs to go, or eat at the cafe upstairs. Since we were tight on time, we ended up getting them to go so we could eat them in the airport lounge. We chose matcha cream, chocolate cream, and custard! Not only were they super cute but also delicious.
こどもの日 kodomo-no-hi is Children’s Day, a public holiday in Japan celebrated on May 5th. There are many events, especially for families and children going on during this time. Many places in Okinawa give free or discounted admission to various attractions, such as the aquarium, museums, the zoo, boat tours, and gardens. People will fly koinobori 鯉のぼり, carp flags, all around the towns– it is such a nice site to see. Originally it was Boys’ Day, Tango no Sekku 端午の節句, but has been changed to celebrate the happiness and health of all children. People still celebrate Boys’ Day in conjunction, though; you will see samurai armor on display, similar to seeing the doll displays during Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day).
ちまき chimaki is a type of rice “dumpling.” This type of chimaki is a sweet and sticky rice dumpling with kudzu 葛 (arrowroot) wrapped in bamboo leaves. Chimaki is connected to Kyoto culture (it is Kyogashi 京菓子, traditional Japanese sweet made particularly in Kyoto), but originally is said to come from China. It is so fragrant and soft, so tasty! It is a popular treat for Children’s Day. I was able to find some at the Japanese confectionary at the SanA mall near me, so obviously I was tempted into buying some.
So I fully realize that crepes are, in fact, originally a French food. However, crepes are wildly popular as a street food in Japan (especially among ladies) and somehow, Japan has adopted them and given them their own style. Japanese crepes are quite different than crepes I have eaten elsewhere so they might surprise you; they use almost no butter (if any) and the fillings are not cooked (just rolled and stuffed in). When it is served, it generally looks like an ice cream cone.
The weather is starting to turn nice recently and work is still quiet since school is not back into full swing yet, so I took the opportunity to sneak out and get an afternoon snack.
I went to a little known place called Cafe Waka-waka located in a back neighborhood of Nishihara town. There are only 2-3 cramped parking spaces, but luckily I was able to park.
On the outside it doesn’t look like much, but when you enter… it is quite a cute and trendy cafe. It was quiet, with only 1 other group of girls eating there. At the counter, I ordered a crepe (it was called mango “cheese”), paid, and waited at one of the tables for a few minutes until it came out. The menu consisted of sweet crepes, savory crepes, and cafe drinks… it is even sort of a little in “English,” though some of it might not make much sense unless you can read the katakana below it, or are a really experienced Engrish-reader.
It was really good, packed full with vanilla ice cream, mango chunks and sauce, sweet cream cheese (but not like the kind you spread on bagels, instead more like rare cheesecake), and cinnamon sprinkled on top. The price was 470yen, which ordinarily is near my limit of how much I like to spend on dessert snacks, but compared to places in the mall which charge over 500yen for crepes, I thought this was a very good deal and I left satisfied. So if you are near Nishihara town and craving a Japanese-style crepe, I recommend checking out this local cafe.
赤福餅 akafuku mochi is a famous type of mochi from Ise 伊勢 in Mie prefecture 三重県. It has a 300 year history.
赤 aka means “red” and 福 fuku means “luck.” 餅 mochi is rice cake.
At the Mie-Nagoya products fair, I got a tea set for only 210yen that included 2 pieces of akafuku mochi and tea.
Akafuku mochi is made with such smooth delicious bean paste, shaped in peaks to symbolize the ripples of the Isuzu river that flows through the Ise grand shrine region. Inside is mochi (rice cake) that represents the smooth white river pebbles.
The taste is amazing; they use no preservatives or artificial coloring and the azuki beans used are from Hokkaido, the mochi is made from all domestic mochi rice.
Today I went to a products fair for Nagoya and Mie held at the department store. There was this really tempting looking manjuu from Mie prefecture; it had a batter made with satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potato). It was called hekoki manjuu へこきまんじゅう.
屁こき (へこき) hekoki: means “breaking wind” or “farting.”
饅頭 (まんじゅう) manjuu is just a type of Japanese steamed bun or cake. Some people romanize it as “manju” with only 1 u.
So these are “cakes” that make you pass gas. Hmmm. I read that sweet potatoes can make you more gassy.
There were many types to choose from but I got the one with cream cheese and cranberry in the middle and it was very delicious. The batter is made from sweet potato which made the texture and taste so yummy. I would really recommend trying these, but maybe not too many at one time…
I didn’t get a picture of the manjuu cake itself since I was too hungry to wait. At the time I was thinking of my stomach and hadn’t planned to write an entry about it. But then I thought that fart-inducing cakes seemed like a pretty interesting/unique food as well as being incredibly oishii 美味しい. I suppose whenever I make it to Mie prefecture, I will have to find their original shop!
Rusk ラスク is a popular sweet snack and omiyage in Japan. It is a sweet twice-baked baguette. I don’t think it is popular or well-known in the US, but for some reason it is really popular here. I see them everywhere, souvenir shops, bakeries, and even the conbini.
It is not anything particularly special, and I have had many types from many places within Japan. They all taste sort of similar– like a very dry, crunchy sweetened baguette slice. It tastes okay, but I don’t really understand the popularity. Most famous is probably the “Gouter de Roi” brand. Recently one of my sensei brought in a “colorful rusk,” which actually has a fruity taste that I kind of like, and the look is rather festive (there were also purple, green, and yellow colors).
Dango 団子 can actually be used to describe a few different things, though typically it means the 3-5 rice cakes on a stick (串 kushi =skewer). Sometimes the the rice cake is flavored, sometimes there is a topping on them. Here are a few you might encounter:
Hanami dango 花見団子: flower-viewing dango, pink/white/green. Probably the quintessential dango and what most foreigners think of when they think of dango. It is called hanami because it was traditionally made in the sakura flower viewing season, but these days it is common year-round. The dango itself is usually not flavored (just food coloring), but sometimes you might get a some sakura essence in the pink or matcha in the green depending on the maker.
Mitarashi dango みたらし団子: plain dango with sweet shoyu sauce on top.
Kinako dango きな粉団子: dango with kinako (roasted soy bean powder) on top.
Goma dango ごま団子: dango with ground black sesame on top.
Anko dango あんこ団子: dango with red paste on top (can be plain or flavored dango).
Age dango 揚げ団子: fried dango… what’s not to like? Be careful those, these are a bit heavy on your stomach, so you can only eat a few.
Bocchan dango 坊ちゃん団子: the flavors of this famous 3-colored dango in Matsuyama are red beans, egg, and matcha… I took a trip to Matsuyama this past year and enjoyed myself enormously, consuming many of these (one of the places I ate Bocchan dango was at the Dogo Onsen). A new dango, called Madonna dango マドンナ団子 has been created… the flavors are actually really western! It is strawberry, vanilla and cafe ole; very girlish and actually really good. I think most westerners would absolutely love this combination of flavors. I only brought back a few as souvenirs and did not actually try any Madonna dango while I was there, so when I realized how good they were I was disappointed I did not buy more!
Meatballs are often called niku dango 肉団子 (meat dango).
Basically, anything round served on a stick qualifies as dango.
花より団子 hana yori dango is a popular saying. It translates to “dango (rice cakes) over flowers,” which means to prefer the substantial to the esthetic. It is also the name of a popular manga 漫画 that is a pun on this saying: 花より男子 Hana yori dango. Normally it would be “danshi” but the last kanji can also be pronounced “ko” or “go.” So the title translates to boys over flowers.
I will update this post with some better pictures (hopefully soon).
千菓子 higashi: dry wagashi, dry sweets (no or little moisture so they stay good longer). This is the generic term, which can include a few different types (including rakugan 落雁 used for Obon offerings). These are the opposite of namagashi which are made fresh and have a lot of moisture content.
和三盆 wasanbon: a type of Japanese fine grain sugar used to make wagashi. This term is also used for the small sugary shapes that are served with tea melt in your mouth.
I visited a shop here in Naha called 知念製菓 和菓子 四季彩 Chinenseika Wagashi Shikisai. The kanji 製菓 seika means confectionary, and 和菓子 wagashi means Japanese sweets. I wanted to pick out some cute confections to serve with tea sometime. The shapes and colors are often seasonal, with a few year-round standbys. These sweets are basically just pure sugar with some added color, contrasting perfectly with the bitterness in tea. If you buy them individually, each little sweet is 70yen at this shop (though if you buy a bag of the same shapes, you save money on the per piece price). I like variety and did not need many, so I chose a few individually that I liked.
冬瓜漬: tougatsuke, tougadzuke. The first 2 kanji are 冬瓜 tougan, which is “winter melon” in English. The last kanji is 漬 (usually ‘tsuke’) meaning “pickle” or “preserve.” So the meaning of this term is something like pickled/preserved winter melon.
Tougan is also known as shibui しぶい in Okinawan language. It is a very hearty and cheap vegetable here in Okinawa. The word winter melon is sort of funny, because it is actually harvested in summer, but it is easy to store these and they will last all winter, so hence winter melon.
Anyway, I recently visited the Jahana Kippan Shop 謝花きっぱん店 in Naha. These shop is the only shop that still makes 2 very famous Ryukuan sweets called kippan and tougatsuke. During the Ryukyu kingdom era, these sweets were enjoyed by the emperor and high ranking nobles as delicacies, one of the 16 types of special fruits and desserts served in the Royal Court. This shop has amazing quality sweets, everything I sampled was so good; since I am a student, my budget was the “imperfect” pieces that they sold in small bags instead of the beautiful perfectly shaped ones.
To make tougatsuke, the juiciest flesh from tougan is used, as well as Okinawan sugarcane. There are no preservatives or artificial flavors here, just natural food made in the same style as the Ryukyu kingdom era. It is amazing that a simple tougan is turned into this sweet concoction! They recommend keeping it chilled, slicing thin pieces, and serving with tea or dessert wine. It is hard to describe the exact flavor– it was very sweet, and a little juicy, sort of melts in your mouth. An excellent pairing with some green tea.
Update: I later purchased the shiqwasa flavored tougatsuke and it is also delicious. I sampled the Okinawan sugarcane rum flavor in the store as well, and it was nice with a hint of rummy flavor.
A short introduction to “wagashi,” meaning Japanese sweets. There are many types, so let me review a few of the common ones. This focuses on Japanese sweets not Okinawan sweets, though it is possible to find most of these in Okinawa. Many of these are the perfect accompaniments to tea, especially matcha 抹茶. I will try to make posts about each of these individually at some point, but for now here is a brief description of each.
Nama-gashi 生菓子: these are fresh, delicate sweets, only lasting 1-2 days. The fillings, shapes and designs vary by the seasons and regions. If you click on the link, you can find out a little bit more about them in my previous blog post, and some places to find them.
daifuku 大福: soft mochi wrapped around sweet bean paste or other fillings, covered with a light dusting of starch to keep them from sticking together. A popular type of daifuku type is strawberry (ichigo 苺). You can even find ice cream filled daifuku in the freezer of most conbini.
dorayaki どら焼き: 2 light, sweet “pancakes” typically with red bean paste in between. Do not mix these up with hotcakes ホットケーキ which are western and serve with syrup.
ohagi おはぎ: cooked glutinous rice with red bean paste (or sometimes other toppings such as sesame or kinako) on the outside. Typically served during Autumn. The Spring version is called botamochi.
dango 団子or だんご: small pieces of steamed mochi dumplings, often served on a stick. Hanami dango 花見団子 is a very popular type, with color of pink, white, and green. Sometimes served with toppings such as mitarashi dango (sweet shoyu), goma (black sesame seed), anko (red bean paste), etc.
manjuu 饅頭 or まんじゅう: small “buns” that are either steamed or baked, filled with sweet bean paste or other sweet filling. Manjuu encompasses many different types of buns, so you will see a lot of variation. The one above is a stuffed pastry manjuu from an onsen town.
taiyaki たい焼き: fish-shaped pancake-like pastry with filling, traditionally red bean, but many flavors can be found such as custard, kinako, chocolate, and more.
youkan 羊羹: sort of sweet, firm, jelly-like confection made from sugar and agar (kanten かんてん). Travels well, so it is often a popular omiyage.
monaka 最中 or もなか: a wafer shell filled with sweet bean paste; the shells can come in different shapes and sizes. A popular modern variation of monaka is filled with ice cream, easy to find at the conbini! (I do not seem to have a picture of this one! mmm maybe that means it is time for a snack…)
sakura mochi (Kansai-style) 桜餅: mochi rice dyed pink and sweetened with red bean paste inside, wrapped with a sakura (cherry blossom) leaf. It is traditionally eaten in spring during sakura season and Girls’ Day (March 3rd). You can eat the leaf or not eat the leaf; from I have heard there is no actual rule regarding this, though the leaf is edible– don’t let anyone tell you are doing it wrong!
warabi mochi わらび餅: jelly-like, similar to mochi, but made from warabi (bracken) starch. It is a little chewy and soft. It is usually covered in kinako or matcha powder.
higashi 干菓子: known as “dry sweets,” or sweets with little to no moisture content. Sometimes this is a glutinous rice flour, sugar and starch mixture or a wasanbon sugar pressed in molds to form dry sweets. Rakugan 落雁, used during ceremonies and obon, also fall under this category.
The の “no” character is short for “noshi” のし or 熨斗, which is a ceremonial origami fold used to express good wishes or good fortune, usually attached to gifts. It is seen at any kind of celebration like a wedding, new baby, New Years, housewarming… people give gifts or money envelopes with this decoration on it.
ぎぼまんじゅう Gibo Manjuu in Shuri sells special manjuu まんじゅう (steamed buns) with the no character painted in red, known as no-manjuu のー饅頭. The manjuu are only 150yen and come out piping hot, enormous and packed with subtly sweet red bean paste. They are wrapped in sannin サンニン (also known as gettou 月桃 in Japanese or shell ginger in English) leaves, so you have the slight fragrance reminiscent of Ryukyu sweets. It is delicious and absolutely filling. It is highly recommended to visit and try these manjuu!
Although the shop is currently located at Kubagawa in the Shuri area, it was originally by the Seikou temple in Gibo (another area of Shuri), so the name is Gibo Manjuu since the business is over a century old. The number of manjuu sold each day is limited, so be sure to go early!