Oh, the dry, sweet taste that begs for tea. At one time, a mysterious, alien like dessert – that I have since come to love and crave. Especially when drinking Japanese teas.
Many Americans, upon their first bite, get slightly freaked out. I tell you, this is an ancient candy made of all natural ingredients. Having a bite of wagashi WILL engage all five senses: sight (design), taste (often bean paste!), texture (for you to discover), scent (aroma) and sound (the name is similar to saying a word of poetry). Invoking the senses, engaging with the seasons – this Japanese way of being – is at the heart of wagashi.
They are made of grains, nuts, beans, fruits, etc. Their history goes back to Ancient Japan, and over the centuries the different shapes and styles of wagashi have taken on meaning. Their names express beauty of the natural world or refer ancient literature. In the 1400’s, they became incorporated in the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Finding Wagashi outside of Japan
If you live in a major city, you most likely have access to buying wagashi at your local Asian supermarket. Mochi seems to be the most popular (gooey rice cake filled with red bean paste) – just the tip of the iceberg of styles.
In New York City, I go to Minamoto in Rockefeller Center. They have a fantastic selection of dried wagashi in seasonal shapes, plus fresh wagashi flown in daily from Japan. It’s a store, so everything is taken “to-go.” I enjoy the Japanese sales people that work there, and find myself bowing and speaking broken English, as I attempt to point/buy. Go there to get your “Lost in Translation” moment.
For Japanese teas paired with wagashi, I highly recommend Cha-An Tea House in the East Village. Ordering a bowl of matcha and mochi are one of my personal treats to myself.