Monday, May 14, 2012

Kamome No Tamago

Since leaving Japan and becoming a woman of leisure (i.e., unemployed), I've been taking advantage of the time to do things which I lacked the free hours to do in Tokyo. One of those things is putting my hand to various types of food preparation which is time-consuming, yet the sort of thing which is either a basic skill I never learned, or a creative endeavor I never engaged in. For instance, I like cooking with beans, but I never prepared dry beans. I always bought canned ones. As a woman of a certain leisure (i.e., income-less), it struck me that it would be a good idea to finally learn how to cook dry beans because it saves material waste and is much more economical.

My first foray into a world that my parents and grandparents were already familiar with (i.e., super cheap cooking with the cheapest and most flatulence-inducing protein provider) was with a 1-pound (2.2 kg.) bag of black beans. I'm pleased to say that they cooked well despite it being my first attempt. Of course, it's not exactly rocket science. I just had to not be a total impatient dumb ass and keep the temperature down and stir the pot once in awhile. 

The end result of my foray into dry bean land (a great name for a theme park for those who require little to amuse themselves) was a plethora of cooked black beans. What better way to put them to use than to experiment with some recipes that are off the beaten path? I looked up one of the many recipes for cakes and brownies made with black beans and promptly made my first creation. This is it:

The response you tend to get to the idea of making sweets with beans is, "ewwww!" And, the first question people tend to ask when you make such things is, "does it taste like beans?" The answer is, "no, it tastes like cake." No matter how many assurances you offer the average Western consumer, they are unlikely to truly believe you until you get them to place a bite into their yobs and allow them to personally witness the lack of beaniness. 

Now, if you change the location of this situation to Japan and you are talking to a Japanese person, their response is "yum!" Well, more accurately, they will say, "oishii!" Because bean sweets are so common in Japan, they don't bat an eye at the notion that you can make a delightful treat with beans of all sorts. They've been living this reality for years, yet most Western folks are still giving you a look that says, "you're trying to get me to eat something good for me by wrapping it up in something that resembles something delicious, but you're not fooling anyone."

I asked my husband when I made the black bean cake if he would have been willing to sample it had he not had years of experience eating bean treats in Japan. He said that he was pretty sure that he would not. One of the gifts we received from our experiences with food there was an open-mindedness about food and what can and can't be used in certain dishes. The bean cake I'm reviewing today is one of the first ones that got my husband started on a profound love of such things, Kamome No Tamago (which means "sea gull's egg").

I consider this one of the "staple" consumer treats in Japan. I see them in most supermarkets year-round and they are relatively reasonably priced for a higher quality bean treat. They aren't the same as the fresh types that you can pick up at dedicated sweets shops, but they are very tasty and approachable to Western palates. Part of the reason for this is that the white bean filling is surrounded by a thin shell of soft, but firm cake coated in the thinnest layer of white chocolate. The center tastes of the stuff of cake, but is not overly sweet. The texture is moist, but not too heavy or dense. It would be unfair to say the center adds nothing to the flavor, but it also would be wrong to say it tastes like beans as Westerners tend to conceptualize them. They've been mashed into a near fudge-like texture and mixed with magic (sugar and margarine) to make them a textural and taste delight.

My husband and I usually bought our Kamome No Tamago for 525 yen ($6.56)  for a pack of 6 egg-size cakes at Inageya supermarket, but I saw them at many other shops. They weren't sold at convenience stores for the most part, but they were in many different types of grocery stores and department stores. During our years in Japan, we likely consumed well over a hundred of these bean cakes between us, possibly each. They're one of the things we decided to carry back to America with us with our limited luggage weight capacity. They are worth the weight in your pack, the yen in your wallet and the calories.


StubbornOne said...

I personally found them too sweet and too much like cake, but my sister liked them. The black bean cake looks delicious, although I'd have thought it was chocolate X:

Lizabet said...

I love making black bean brownies - I've brought them to work and converted a few people. I did find that adding a few tablespoons of peanut butter (with appropriate warnings before consumption in case of allergies) makes the consistency much less crumbly. Yay bean sweets! I got hungry looking at that cake slice!

Sophia Lee said...

Oh I made adzuki brownies!! Similar to the one you made. It wasn't that much like a brownie, more like a dense, adzuki-flavored chocolate ganache.

Orchid64 said...

Stubborn One: They are sweeter than some, but I think that's why my husband loved them so much. I imagine they are popular in Japan as well since they are so commonly available. The black bean cake also includes cocoa powder, which is why it doesn't taste like beans. ;-)

Lizabet: I made the brownies once, I think. I want to try them again though. The bean cake I made wasn't crumbly at all, though it was a bit "spongy", but not in a cakey way.

Sophia Lee: Now that I'm in the U.S., I have to experiment with Japanese cooking including making my own anko! I'm looking forward to it, but I do miss having such easy access to everything!

Thanks to all of you for reading and commenting!

The Magical World of Jacqueline said...

Mind sharing a recipe for the black bean cake you made? I would love to try it.

Orchid64 said...

Hi, and thanks for your comment!

The recipe I followed is here:

The only modification I made was that I used half brown sugar and white sugar in place of the Demerara sugar and vegetable margarine instead of coconut oil. I also added a dash of cinnamon to boost the chocolate flavor. Since I had just made my own vat of black beans, I didn't use canned ones, but a cup and a half of rinsed and drained homemade black beans.