Japanese Desserts
Although dessert is not included in the average traditional meal (especially at our house) and kaiseki restaurants include a small piece of fruit (if anything) to end the meal, traditional sweets, called wagashi, have a long tradition. These were usually consumed with tea, or as a snack in the middle of the day. Wagashi companies such as Toraya have been in business since at least the 16th century, supplying, among others, the Imperial court. Their wagashi (pictured above) are beautiful to behold, and feature seasonal ingredients, motifs and flavors. They are also quite prestigious and expensive ($4 and up) and are often wrapped in exquisite boxes to be given as gifts, or served to guests during tea ceremonies. There are different grades of wagashi, and some are much more humble and affordable. Most people don’t make their own wagashi, as they are time consuming and difficult to make. In the West, ohagi are found at Japanese markets in the refrigerated section. For fun, or to feed a large group, you might try making your own ohagi, or one of the desserts featured below.


Kurikinton (pureed sweet potato with candied chestnuts)
While not technically a dessert, this sweet concoction of creamy satsuma-imo (Japanese sweet potatoes) and candied chestnuts is served as part of the traditional Oshogatsu New Year's osechi-ryori feast. The intense flavor of the chestnuts marries well with Japanese sweet potatoes, which have a similar flavor. It's important to use satsuma-imo, not regular, sweet potatoes, for this dish. For more information, read the vegetable page in the ingredient section. The name, "chestnut gold puree" is the epitome of richness, and its bright gold color symbolizes wealth. RECIPE


Tokoroten (chilled agar-agar noodles)
This is a traditional, old-fashioned snack that has very few calories. Tokoroten is made from kanten (agar agar), a type of sea grass that is similar to gelatin. This is chilled and pushed through a bamboo form that is fitted with a metal grid on one end. The block is pushed through the maesh to make noodles. The traditional way to eat tokoroten is floating in a vineagar sauce, spiced up with a little mustard. The other way is with a brown sugar sauce.


Anmitsu (Japanese style sundae) and Mitsumame
Tea houses and coffee shops all over Japan serve this traditional sweet snack, and it’s one of my mom’s favorites. A similar dessert is served at Chinese restaurants. Small cubes of translucent kanten are served with sugar syrup and a few pieces of canned fruit. Deluxe versions also add a scoop of anko (bean paste) and for super deluxe, vanilla ice cream cover with some matcha syrup. The visual effect is colorful and festive, and the taste is refreshing and not as heavy as a western sundae. RECIPE