Kanazawa is indeed a ball of culture, tradition and distinctive characteristics (think along the lines of gold leaf production). And if a tour of the place satisfies you but also leaves you wanting to take a part of it home, then these souvenirs will do the trick of curing those missing-Kanazawa-blues. With generations of passed-down recipes reflective of the city’s adored culture, these souvenirs also double as sweets and snacks enjoyed by the young and the old.
1. Red Bean Kintsuba
Dubbed as the representative of Japanese sweets, Kintsuba is a Japanese-style confection made of azuki beans, kanten (Japanese agar), sugar and salt wrapped in a thin skin of wheat flour. If you’re looking to try this confectionary, we recommend you to pay Nakataya a visit. Boasting immaculate craftsmanship and a harmony of flavours, this shop has been long famous for its traditional Kintsuba.
Using a special red bean called Dainagon from Hokkaido, their filling of red beans are big and evenly sized; making for the perfect juicy bite. Salt and kanten are used in accompaniment to bring out the flavours and add varied texture. Break the delicate wheat flour skin and sink into the harmonious sweet.
Kintsuba Nakataya Higashiyama
Address: 3-4-30, Higashimaya, Kanazawa-city, Ishikawa Prefecture
Price: from 8.25 USD (pack of 5)
Opening Hours: 9 am - 6 pm
Contact: +81 76 252 1048
2. Yokan - Jelly in Japanese style
Another Wagashi to recommend is none other than the popular Yokan from Toraya. A well-loved dessert in the summer, Yokan is a thick, jellied dessert using red bean paste, agar and sugar as its main ingredients. Some variations of the Yokan even include interesting ingredients like chopped chestnuts, persimmons, whole sweetened azuki beans, figs, and sweet potato. Typically chilled and served in blocks, the sweet is favoured by locals and travellers alike.
While Japan’s Wagashi industry is thriving with the competition of shops for recognition, this long-established Wagashi maker easily stands out from the rest. Delivering excellent flavours and exquisitely crafted Yokan, it is no surprise that many associate the adulated sweet with the line of reputed shops. Dating back to an incredible 500 years ago, Toraya successfully immerses tradition and modernity to present a concoction of old and new flavours.
Offering different variations, try the crowd-favourite Shin Midori Yokan made with matcha, or the Yoru no Ume Yokan filled with ogura-style red bean paste. If your taste buds are out for an adventure, the creative flavours of honey and tea may turn out to be your new favourite.
With 79 branches around the country and some conveniently located in department stores including Matsuya, Mitsukoshi, and Takashimaya, there is no reason not to give this a try!
3. Okiagari Monaka - Japanese pastry
While I can promise you that this list stretches to include more than Japanese confectionery, the adorable Okiagari Monaka sure snags its well-deserved place and is worth a mention.
It’s not hard to find Monaka sweets all over the country, and in a vast array of shapes and sizes to boot. However, this treat serves more than red bean paste sandwiched between wafers. Eaten as a traditional treat during festive times, Monaka sweets are commonly associated with special memories and carry greater significance in Kanazawa. Believed to bring good fortune, it is typically presented as a gift in times of celebration.
The unique Okiagari Monaka is shaped and wrapped like a Kagahachiman self-righting doll accompanied with a generous filling of anko (sweet red bean paste). A product of the venerated confectioner in Kanazawa “Urata”, Okiagari Monaka is satisfyingly good to eat and also look at.
Kanazawa Urata (shop)
Address : available in many souvenir shops in Kanazawa. Main branch is at 21-14 Mikagemachi, Kanazawa-city
Contact for the main branch: +81 120-431-719
Opening hours of main branch: 9 am - 6 pm
Yet another sweet on the list, Kamifusen will be far from an unfamiliar name if you are visiting Kanazawa. Alternatively known as “paper balloons” in English, this Japanese confectionery comes in a myriad of cheerful colours and is filled with flavoured jelly on the inside.
If you’re looking to give Kamifusen a try, many will point you to the reputed shop, Kasho Takagiya; and with good reason too! Founded in 1925, the shop is home to decades’ worth of history and its moulding of craft. Take your pick from the extensive range of flavours featuring the popular lemon, grape, white wine, and brown sugar. Usually enthralled for its dainty appearance and sweet flavours, Kamifusen is known to make a perfect gift for women, and is usually presented at weddings and during Valentine’s Day.
Price: from 6.35 USD (box of 9)
5. Castella with gold leaf on top
Reputed as the gold leaf capital of Japan, Kanazawa brings another unthinkable treat: Castella with gold leaf on top. Adding a twist to the popular Japanese sponge cake, the city hints at its surfeit of gold leaf by adorning the dessert with elegant gold leaf finishing.
While Castella cake is usually made of sugar, flour, eggs and starch syrups, some shops in Kanazawa go the extra mile and replace the chicken eggs with Ukokkei eggs. The result is a smoother texture and a more flavoursome end-product.
Easily recognisable by their long packaging, the cakes are made in a traditional mould and served in a frame of 27cm (10.6 inches). At times cut into a seasonal motif like a butterfly or flower, this dessert is a delight to the eyes as much as it is to the stomach.
If you’re in Kanazawa, you may like to give the local’s favourite, Mameya Kanazawa Bankyu, a try for their consistent fresh cakes and supreme gold leaf touches.
Mameya Kanazawa Bankyu
Price: from 13.23 USD
Contact: +81 76-258-0821
6. Kaga Gosai Tea
Kaga Gosai is also known as the Five Colours of Kaga. Originally white tea that has been blended into green tea, Lupicia’s Kaga Gosai tea is an aromatic delight. Carrying the sweet fragrance of fresh apricot and flower petals, you’ll be surprised at the transient textures; a creamy sip at times.
Characteristic of Kanazawa, this tea is a definite must-try. Pair it with local sweets or a cake of your preference, and enjoy away!
Lupicia Kanazawa Forus branch -right next to JR Kanazawa station)
Address: 1F, Kanazawa Forus 3-1 Horikawashinmachi, Kanazawa-city
Access: right next to JR Kanazawa station
Price: from 9.34 USD
7. Kakinoha Sushi
A great alternative for people who aren’t that keen on raw fish, Kakinoha Sushi is a type of smoked sushi that brings you the fusion of fresh fish and sweet rice in a satisfying harmony. While it may be your first time hearing the combination of a mackerel sushi wrapped with persimmon leaves, this Japanese delicacy has long been around since the Edo period.
In recent days, salmon and snapper have also been used instead of mackerel to deliver variety but persimmon leaves still remain as the unchanging ingredient in the dish. The best complement to its vinegar-marinated rice and savoury seasonal fish, the reason for Kakinoha Sushi’s uniquely aromatic fragrance and wholesome flavours is this humble ingredient.
One of the most popular types of Wagashi, Rakugan is melt-in-your-mouth Japanese dried sweets. Particularly famous in Kanazawa because of its production during the Edo period, the Japanese confection has innovated through generations of different palettes but has preserved its traditional methods.
Previously eaten during each Sekku (seasonal festival) in Kanazawa Castle during the Edo period, the mastery of Rakugan’s presentation reflects its exquisiteness and adulation. Many even consider these Japanese sweets to be artworks themselves; with its beautiful shade of colours and intricate patterns.
Japanese sugar, soybean flour and other fine powders are pressed together in wooden molds to make the sweet, and fine Rakugan are pressed in Kashigata (traditional wooden molds). Easily found in Japanese confectionery shops and department stores, Rakugan can be served in customised shapes and are typically served during tea ceremonies.
9. Sweet beans
Also known as Amanatto in Japanese, this Japanese traditional sweet is boiled beans with sugar. One of the earlier inventions after sugar became widely available in Japan, any type of bean can be used to make the dish with the more common ones being azuki and black soybeans. The beans are brought to a boil in sugared water, dried, and then doused with more sugar. Served with Japanese green tea, it makes for the perfect accompanying confection and continues to be a popular treat till today.
While many regions in Japan sell Amanatto, Kanazawa has manufactured its own style of the sweet. To try it for yourself, visit the small shop of Kawamura located in the city for the beans’ soft textures and addictive tastes. While Hokkaido’s sweet beans may prove to be too sweet for the liking of some, those in Kawamura have a well-composed flavour balance and a comforting aftertaste. Needless to say, if you have a sweet tooth, this will satisfy those cravings of yours completely.
Address: 2-24-7, Nomachi, Kanazawa-city
Contact: +81 76-282-7000
10. Kukicha (Twig Tea)
Alternatively known as Kaga bocha, Twig Tea uses high-quality first flush stems that deliver a rich golden colour and undiluted taste. Highly distinctive with its roasted aroma, Kukicha is frequently served in restaurants for its exceptional combination with Japanese cuisine. Also sold in many places in sachets, bring one home as a memento from Kanazawa.
The sweetness of Kanazawa
Sharing a taste of Kanazawa at home brings back the memories of travelling in the cherished city and rekindles the taste of culture and traditional recipes. Head on to the recommended stores or follow the local’s trail to smaller, well-preserved shops and get goodies to remember the scent of Kanazawa, or just to satisfy your addiction for cute things and grow that expanding belly.
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