Saturday, September 27, 2008
Dainagon Castella Cakes
When I review a brand or company for the first time, I like to include a little background information. This requires some research in Japanese and English, but I believe it's worth it to develop a deeper understanding of the product and to tell the reader something other than the nuts and bolts of how good or bad the food is.
With this particular brand name, I couldn't find out much. In fact, the only "corporate" web page I could find included only an address, telephone number, basic sales data, and number of employees. The product itself is featured as part of a site called "Omiyage Park" that showcases a variety of souvenirs. "Omiyage" is the Japanese word for souvenir gifts. To me, that suggests that the brand name is relatively new since most companies with a long history in a particular business go out of their way to showcase that fact. In Japan, a company with a long history generally breeds trust in the brand name.
This box contained 6 small cakes which are similar to castella. Castella is an immensely popular type of sponge cake in Japan which originated with the Portuguese hundreds of years ago. That's the reason the name sounds very un-Japanese. You can get castella anywhere including convenience stores. The quality is highly variable. Most of it is rather tacky to the touch, stickily sweet, and a bit dry and course. It comes in a lot of flavor varities though the most common is a plain type.
These particular cakes were given to my husband as a gift. There are 3 green tea and 3 red bean (adzuki) varieties. Each cake is individually-wrapped and quite small. They are not the sort of thing we would buy for ourselves since he actively dislikes green tea sweets and I'm indifferent to unattracted to them. My tolerance of green tea items depends greatly on the intensity of tea flavor. While I don't mind red beans, I don't crave them either. To me, they carry the texture of kidney beans, though not the taste.
I first sampled the adzuki bean cake and actually liked it quite a lot. It's studded with a lot of beans, but not so many as to weigh the cake down. The cake is moist and lightly sweet. When you smell it, it smells ever so slightly "beany". It's pleasant-tasting and the adzuki flavor is present, but not overwhelmingly strong.
The green tea cakes are a whole other beast. They smell intensely of green tea and are soft but slightly dry. They are studded with little green pea-type beans which may have been steeped in tea flavor. On the first bite, you are smashed over the head with a hard hit of tea at the start which mellows with initial bites. It's less sweet than the adzuki flavor cake, though only by the slimmest of margins.
These cakes were very, very fresh when the box was first opened, but they noticeably lose quality after a day or two. The web site that sells these encourages you to eat them quickly after opening and I'm guessing this is why. Note that the pictures of these cakes on the web site are almost certainly plastic food versions and not the real cake. Nutrition information is absent as it is for most snacks expressly for sale as souvenirs so I have no information regarding calories. The ingredients are mostly standard cake fare (flour, sugar, eggs) along with green tea and adzuki beans.
I'd never buy these for myself, but I certainly wouldn't mind receiving a box with only the adzuki flavor again. They are a nice change of pace and satisfy a craving for a bit of cake. The green tea ones are just too strong for me, but I'm guessing they'd be great for someone who doesn't mind feeling like they're licking some green tea powder. As it is, I'm going to give the two remaining green tea cakes away to one of my students who loves green tea sweets and will likely appreciate them more than me.