The way of wagashi: Traditional Japanese sweets in Kanazawa
Kanazawa (金沢), the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県 Ishikawa-ken), is arguably the largest tourist destination in the Hokuriku Region (北陸地方 Hokuriku Chihō), with its numerous famed spots such as the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (金沢21世紀美術館 Kanazawa Nijūichiseiki Bijutsukan), the Omicho Fish Market (近江町市場 Ōmichō Ichiba), and Kenrokuen (兼六園), to name but a few. Similarly, another draw for visitors is the food—to travellers, both domestic and international, Kanazawa is widely known for her bountiful seafood and Noto beef (能登牛 Noto-ushi). However, there is one more genre that Kanazawa excels in—sweets, be it Japanese wagashi (和菓子) or western-style cakes and pastries.
(Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Given that households in Kanazawa have topped the nationwide ranking for the amount of money spent on wagashi for three years straight, one can tell that the people of Kanazawa take their confectionery seriously—this might also be due to the teahouse culture that developed in the area, evident in the Chayagai (茶屋町) districts that still remain today. Here are a few recommendations for you to end your meal in Kanazawa on a sweet note!
1. Habutae Kaga-renkon mochi (羽二重 加賀れんこん餅)
A delightfully soft and chewy habutae Kaga-renkon mochi. (Image credit: Kotani Ayumi)
Mochi is one of the most traditional of all Japanese foods, and can be used in a variety of ways, from being added to ozouni (お雑煮), a soup eaten on New Year’s Day, and being made into moffles, a gluten-free variant of waffles. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, it is also used in desserts–for those of you who have eaten a daifuku (大福) before, the skin is sweetened mochi.
Habutae mochi is similar in that it is also made from glutinous rice flour, sweetened with sugar and mizuame (水飴), a kind of sugar syrup. Named after habutae, a silk fabric that is white and extremely soft and pillowy to the touch, it is originally a specialty of Fukui Prefecture (福井県 Fukui-ken), neighbour to Ishikawa.
While habutae mochi is normally eaten on its own as is, Koshiyama Kanseido (越山甘清堂), a wagashi shop in Kanazawa, serves theirs with an unusual twist—the addition of renkon (れんこん lotus root). Just like how Kyoto is known for Kyō-yasai (京野菜), or traditional Kyoto vegetables, Kanazawa also has her own brand of heirloom varieties dubbed Kaga-yasai (加賀野菜). Over at Koshiyama Kanseido, they use Kaga-renkon in their version of habutae mochi—by grating it and combining it with the glutinous rice flour, the resulting mochi is delightfully chewy and delicately perfumed with the scent of lotus root. In addition, crushed lotus seeds are also included, adding bite and giving a textural contrast against the softness of the mochi.
A box of habutae Kaga-renkon mochi. (Image credit: Kotani Ayumi)
Having been awarded the Kanazawa Prefectural Governor Award in the souvenir category in 2005, this habutae mochi will delight all who taste it, and makes an excellent gift from Kanazawa!
Koshiyama Kanseido (越山甘清堂)
Address: 13-17 Musashi-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa, 920-0855
Nearest station: JR Kanazawa Station (JR金沢駅)
Opening hours: 09:00–18:00 (Closed on Wednesdays)
Writer’s Note: There are multiple locations—the address given above is for the main store. There are a total of eight outlets around Kanazawa, including one in the Hyakubangai Shopping Mall within JR Kanazawa Station, and one at the Omicho Fish Market.
2. Fukusa (ふくさ)
An image of fukusa-mochi. (Image credit: photoAC)
Fukusa, also known as tsuyufukusa (つゆふくさ), is a wagashi where red bean paste is rolled up in a fluffy skin made from grilled batter. It derives its name from a type of Japanese textile with the same name often used to wrap presents or monetary gifts for weddings and funerals–the rectangular shape of the rolled-up confectionery resembles the fukusa itself, and the way the red bean paste is wrapped up in the skin is not unlike how the fabric is used to wrap its contents.
Ask for recommendations for fukusa in Kanazawa, and chances are most people would point you to Murakami (村上). Established in 1911, and with over 200 years in the business, it goes without saying that they are a well-known name—these years of experience have enabled them to balance tradition with the contemporary, and they have done exactly that with their take on fukusa by introducing an additional element to it, that of sweetened mochi.
Fukusa mochi (ふくさ餅), as it is called, is a treat for the tastebuds due to its various textures—upon biting into it, one first enjoys the softness of the pancake-like skin, before that gives way to the smoothness of the red bean paste, and finally the chewiness of the mochi hidden within. Over at Murakami, they offer a few types of fukusa mochi—a standard version using muscovado sugar in the skin and available all-year-round, as well as limited-edition variants that highlight seasonal delights, such as green tea in summer and chestnuts in autumn, and even a special edition for Halloween, coloured jet-black with charcoal in the skin and enveloping a filling of locally-grown pumpkin squash! As with the habutae renkon-mochi above, Murakami’s fukusa mochi is individually wrapped and keeps for more than a week, making it an ideal souvenir to bring back from your trip.
Address: 2-3-32 Nagamachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa, 920-0865
Nearest station: JR Kanazawa Station (JR金沢駅)
Opening hours: 11:30–16:00 (Weekdays), 09:30–17:30 (Weekends & public holidays)
Writer’s Note: There are multiple locations—the address given above is for the main store. There are a total of eight outlets around Kanazawa, including one in the Hyakubangai shopping mall within JR Kanazawa Station, and three cafes, including one next to the main store. They also have a few outlets in Izu, Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka.
3. Yurine-kinton (ゆり根きんとん)
An image of kinton. (Image credit: Ishikawa Prefectural Tourism League)
Japanese cuisine is known not only for its delicate flavours and exquisite presentation, but also for how it highlights the freshness of the ingredients used, and aims to present a snapshot of spring, summer, autumn and winter through the use of seasonal produce—this is also a theme in wagashi, and one such example would be kinton (きんとん). There are two kinds of kinton, but both use chestnuts, a favourite in autumn—one variety of kinton is a loose paste, made from either chestnuts or sweet potatoes, containing whole chestnuts simmered in sugar syrup, and is eaten as part of osechi (おせち料理) during the New Year as an auspicious dish thought to bring monetary fortune. The other involves mashing steamed chestnuts and sugar, and shaping the resulting thick paste with a cloth to form a small chestnut-shaped ball, and this variety of kinton originated from Gifu Prefecture (岐阜県 Gifu-ken), slightly below Ishikawa and well-known for its chestnuts.
As the latter variety of kinton is far easier to make at home, many variants using ingredients apart from chestnuts have also gained popularity, one of them being yurine kinton, or lily bulb. Most people are familiar with lilies as a cut flower—however, its buds and bulbs can also be eaten as vegetables, with the buds being featured predominantly in Chinese cooking. Mainly grown in Hokkaido (北海道) and harvested from October onwards, yurine is usually considered a winter delicacy, as the bulbs are left to mature for two to three months after harvesting to allow for the starch to be converted to sugars before being shipped out.
Yurine has a faint sweetness and a starchy texture, not unlike chestnuts, and this makes it exceptionally well to make kinton with—Ofuku (オフク), a stone’s throw from the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, makes an excellent version. Formerly called Ofukuken (お婦久軒), and specializing in wagashi, the shop, which started in 1918, underwent a revamp with the fourth-generation owner, a pâtissier, in 2012, and now offers Western-styled pastries and cakes alongside their wagashi offerings. Unlike the other two wagashi above, though, yurine kinton does not keep for long—the shop recommends consuming it in three days’ maximum, and it has to be kept refrigerated at all times. For those of you visiting Kanazawa in winter and are looking for something a little more unusual, this may well satiate your tastebuds!
PÂTISSERIE OFUKU（パティスリー オフク）
Address: 1-2-13 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa, 920-0962
Nearest station: JR Kanazawa Station (JR金沢駅)
Opening hours: 10:00–18:00 (Closed on Mondays, and every other Tuesdays)
Writer’s Note: Currently closed till the end of October 2020 (as of 7 October 2020). Their sister outlet, “remref” (21-2 Tokiwa-machi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa, 920-0834), has reopened as of 8 September 2020.
Kanazawa is home not to just famed tourist destinations and delicious seafood and meats, but also to a dazzlingly wide variety of wagashi. A feast for both the eyes and the tongue, do remember to look out for some of these sweet treats on your next trip to the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture!
Header image credit: photoAC