Tale of Japan’s Favorite Treats long ago, a group of Portuguese monks had quite the adventure. They were sailing to Macao, but a twist of fate led them to Nagasaki, Japan, instead. Little did they know, this accidental encounter would change Japan’s food scene forever. These monks brought along a magical ingredient – sugar!
In the 16th century, Nagasaki was the go-to spot for foreigners to trade with the Japanese. This bustling city developed a serious sweet tooth, and many of Japan’s beloved sweets Tale of Japan, known as wagashi, have roots in Nagasaki.
Castella A Pound Cake Love Story
One such sweet is castella, a pound cake inspired by the Portuguese. Although the pound cake style came from Portugal, the Japanese touch comes from mizuame syrup, made from glutinous rice. For a taste of this delightful treat, head to Fukusaya Tale of Japan, a famous cake shop that opened its doors in Nagasaki in 1624. They cut their castella into cute cubes, wrap them up in colorful packaging, and nestle them into gift boxes.
Dorayaki Where Castella Meets Red Bean Magic
Castella also plays a role in another favorite Japanese sweet – dorayaki. Here, the castella cake becomes a thin pancake filled with sweet red bean paste. It’s like a delicious meeting of Europe and Japan in every bite!
Macarons with a Japan Twist
Japan has also put its spin on European sweets, like the famous macarons. The local version, sometimes called makaron, uses peanut flour instead of almond flour and boasts flavors like green tea or red bean. It’s a fusion of European pastry love with a touch of Japan flair.
Kitajima’s Sweet Symphony Europe Meets Japan
Kitajima, a brand from Kyushu, takes this sweet fusion to the next level. Their sweets blend European and Japanese influences, featuring cookies inspired by Portugal, madeleines with added walnuts, and Margaret cakes shaped like big flowers.
Konpeito A Candy Fit for Royalty
A candy fit for kings and queens is konpeito. These small, pastel-hued sugar treats resemble crystalline stars or flowers. The name comes from the Portuguese word for sugar candy, confeito. They are so precious that even a small konpeito is a big treat. Traditionally, these candies are placed in sterling silver candy boxes called bonbonnieres. The Imperial Family gifts these boxes to special guests during important events, like weddings and coronations.
Honoring Tradition A Sweet Twist on Local Flavors
Some chefs in Japan are on a mission to bring back the local flavors used before sugar became the star. Take Chef Abbatemarco at Est, the Michelin-starred French restaurant in the Four Seasons Tokyo at Otemachi. For over a decade, he’s been sourcing rare honeys to sweeten food, paying homage to Japan’s small producers. At Est, you can taste petits fours flavored with buckwheat honey, soba honey, wasanbon (a fine-grained white sugar), and other local delicacies.
In a world where airplanes replace sailing ships, the love for sweet treats remains strong. So, whether you’re a fan of classic castella, unique macarons, or royal konpeito, Japan’s sweet history continues to delight taste buds across the globe.