Oh Wagashi, How I love you so.
I’ve always vaguely wondered what Cherry Blossoms tasted like, but never had the opportunity to try them until now. Usually the Japanese convenience stores I frequent are either out of stock or I somehow missed the selection altogether.
Due to a freak accident that happened after trying sushi a few years ago, I am now allergic to most nuts and seafood – so I tend to stay away from numerous foodstuffs I’m not sure about. Dango, mocha, daifuku and senbei are some of my favorite traditional snacks. Kinako dango, koshian mochi, dorayaki and strawberry daifuku also hold special places in my heart. Mainly, anything with adzuki beans, matcha or (Hokkaido) cream are safe foods I have tried in the past.
I attended Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual Sakura Matsuri this past Saturday and visited a traditional sweets stand. Amongst a sea of money grabs they were a few beacons of hope.
I do know and respect that the Gardens have to make their investment back somehow aside from ticket sales, and a la movie theatre concessions stands that is why the prices were so inflated. However I cannot find any good justification for onigiri being $8.00 when I know convenience stores around the city sell them for $2.00. OR the $20.00 karaage that at certain places cost a healthy $4.00 at most. But I digress, we are getting off track.
The inflation of snack prices is a growing pet peeve of mine born the first time I attended Liberty City Anime Con. I had never been to a non-profit convention before and it was a bit of culture shock coming from big cons like NYCC and Anime Expo with wholesaled merchandise.
I purchased two traditional Sakura snacks, Sakura Mochi and Sakura Goromo. We are going to talk about the latter today. This is also my first ever time trying to review a food, so bear with my less than eloquent descriptions of these foods.
The last time I visited my grandma in Albuquerque was in 2010; I purchased random things from the local Vietnamese market. One of those things was a bamboo sushi roller mat. It has literally sat in a drawer in the corner of my room the past eight years waiting to find purpose within its inanimate object life. On a cloudy day in April, its day has finally come.
(I also felt the need to cover up the Kokopelli placemats a bit.)
Sure, I should have broken out the porcelain blue dragon Chinese teapot for aesthetic reasons and the pretty white plates in the cabinet – but I wanted a more rustic look. Also, that means I’d have to wash dishes and that’s not something I’m keen on doing at 7 am on a Monday morning.
I appreciated that Minamoto Kitchen had ingredient inscriptions along with displays at their booth. Despite this, however, I still read the ingredients myself on the back of the package. I find that sometimes if anchovies or other fish are added into Japanese packaged foods, they will not be in the bottom ‘contains’ section. You have to scan every single ingredient to find it hidden in the third or fourth row of text. My favorite senbei ‘Yuki no Yado’ somewhere along the way began adding fish into the mix and for dietary reasons, I had to switch to a different brand. Or there is the issue of going to Bento shops or restaurants and mentioning you have a seafood allergy (シーフードアレルギーがあります) and sometimes I’ve still been offered miso soup.
I know this is due to the fact that和食膳, Japanese food dishes, are primarily seafood based and vegetarianism isn’t really a thing there. With this in mind, I tread lightly with my excitement over these snacks.
I’m sure the crape-like outer shell was a lot less porous at the time of my purchase, but being out in the sun all day then later sitting in the fridge for two days left it a bit deflated.
I used scissors to open the packaging, which was quite sturdy. Opening it a strong floral smell mixed with cinnamon wafted into my nostrils. I also smelled the adzuki bean cake mixture.
The freshness packet lay on the bottom of the neatly folded treat. There was a dried pink blossom pressed into its surface, and turning it on its side you can see red bean paste. Possibly tsubushian anko, as it seems the beans were mashed with their skins. Or it could be koshian anko, which is most commonly used in snacks and has the skins removed.
I bit into the center and was pleasantly surprised by the strong taste of cinnamon spices and an actual leaf. Now the ingredients on the back say that it contains a leaf, but for some reason I wasn’t prepared for it to be hidden within the anko mixture. I laughed out loud as it reminded me of the first time I tried Kashiwa Mochi at Kodomo no Hi, or Children’s Day festival. I asked if the oak leaf surrounding the mochi was edible and I was told it was not expected to be consumed but mainly used to hold the sticky rice. I now think next time I purchase that particular mochi I will try to eat the oak leaf, as the leaves are now in the salad blend I’m purchasing for my diet.
The leaf by itself has a sort of musky, almost spicy taste. Similar to cardamom or Moroccan spices. The cherry blossom itself taste a bit watery and almost pink. Is that a thing? Can a food taste like the color it is? It is not necessarily sweet or bitter, and it also is a bit papery going down. I have coffee made which I plan on drinking after this review, but the traditional pairing of teas would have went splendidly with this treat.
Eating the last morsel of the cake, I am very satisfied with the taste. In the past I’ve watched YouTubers trying cherry blossom tea and other treats at festivals and remarking that it tasted like salt. I tasted nothing salty about this, only sweetness and musk. It also left a really great aftertaste in my mouth.
I’d like to try many more wagashi, but for now we’ll leave this review here. The review of the Sakura Mochi will soon follow this one. Ideally, I’d like to bring more reviews of obscure snacks to the site.
If you are in the New York area, Minamoto Kitchoan has locations in the World Trade Center Store and on Madison Ave. They are also online.
If you have an interest in Japanese wagashi but have no local Japanese community presence around where you live, certain websites have great seasonal selections. There are even things like Sakura Cherry Blossom Jam 5.1oz ! It can be used as a filling for any seasonal confection of your choice – you could even put it in a doughnut! Checking their selections out while using the link will also help the site bring more content like this to you all.
Have you tried cherry blossoms snacks before? What is your favorite snack? Leave your thoughts in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us on Twitter, Reddit and Instagram for more exploration of Japanese foods!