Japan is a country rich with culture, beauty and…sugar! Traditional Japanese sweets, also known as wagashi are light and tasty confectionaries mostly based on the combination of mochi, and red bean paste amongst other choice ingredients. Depending on the prefecture, sweets can be produced using lots of different methods. Nowadays they can be bought nearly anywhere so make sure you don’t miss them out on your visit! Here’s a list of some traditional Japanese sweets you simply have to try!
1. Mitarashi Dango
One of the most easily accessible Japanese sweets on this list, mitarashi dango can be found in literally any supermarket! Dango are small dumplings made from sweet rice flour and skewered on a stick. Mitarashi is the sweet ‘n’ salty sticky soy-based sauce that is drizzled on top!
Although, this Japanese snack is readily available from a supermarket fridge, they taste so much better when they come straight from the grill and the sauce is still warm!
Ever heard of the popular anime Doraemon? Well, guess what his favourite food is? Dorayaki of course! These Japanese sweets are made from two very sweet castella-like pancakes with a yummy red bean paste filling! And when I say very sweet, I mean VERY. If you’re a sweet bean and pancake fan, these things can get addictive!
As far as Japanese sweets go, taiyaki is one that can take you back to the times of your childhood with its quirky fish-shape. It’s a sweet anko paste stuffed between two fish-shaped pancake batters. Nowadays, taiyaki can be found with all kinds of fillings besides anko. Popular choices are chocolate, custard and sweet potato! Many people love to enjoy taiyaki fresh off the grill, on a cold winter morning, so they can warm themselves inside out!
If you’re ever in Tokyo, be on the look out for a shop name “Naniwaya”, the original makers of Taikyaki! Definitely worth the trip on any serious foody’s Japanese vacation!
These Japanese sweets are probably the most regional on this list, as they’re a staple Okinawan snack. If you’ve been to Okinawa you’ve most likely noticed that chinsuko get sold in every store. They are similar in texture to shortbread, though not as dense, with a melt in your mouth sensation not that far off candyfloss!
Chinsuko can be found in many different flavours, some of the most popular being sweet potato, chocolate, vanilla and pumpkin!
If you’ve been to Kyoto, you’ve probably seen these Japanese sweets being sold everywhere! As a massive Kyoto tourist attraction, Yatsuhashi can be sold soft as a sort of flat dough mochi stuffed with bean paste. OR it can be sold thin and cracker-like dusted with sugar!
Senbei are a type of flame-toasted cracker snack that can be found in all shapes and sizes, but are usually big enough to fit in your hand- for the optimum snack size! Different from most rice based wagashi on this list, senbei are not made with glutinous rice that is used for mochi. They are the only savoury confectionary on this list, as they are commonly flavoured with soy sauce and nori (dried seaweed).
These Japanese sweets are the seasonal type, so make sure you’re in Japan early spring to summer if you want to try them! They can be found in nearly any local supermarket! Like dango, daifuku are a type of sweet rice dumpling. A piece of soft mochi is wrapped around sweet bean paste and dusted with starch to keep it all together!
The most popular variant of this tasty treat is the strawberry daifuku, which has a strawberry tucked inside the bean paste for a for a juicy surprise! Perfect for spring!
Steamed doughy cakes most commonly filled with bean paste (though it can also be found with sweet potato, chestnut jam and there are even some savoury flavours!). Though Manju bread originally derived from Chinese mantou, it has become a very popular sweet choice in Japan and can be found in every major Japanese supermarket!
A jellied confectionary that is usually made with red and white bean and agar agar (that means it’s vegan people! But just make sure you ask the vendor just in case!). They pair great with green tea and often come with seasonal foods in them like chestnuts, making this a fantastic choice for winter!
Ever watched an anime and wondered “what are those tiny star-things that all the kids are eating?” Well, that’s konpeito! Tiny rock sugar candies that come in a dazzling array of colours. They are perfect for a sneaky afternoon snack.
“Ryokujuan Shimizu” in Kyoto remains as the only shop in the entirety of Japan to specialise in making konpeito. If you ever find yourself in Kyoto, make sure to stop by and give these traditional Japanese sweets a try!