Friday, August 2, 2013

Adachi Sangyo Chestnut Monaka

Sorry, I managed to lose my pictures, but the manufacturer's is much nicer anyway.

If you search my archives, you will see that I have only reviewed a "monaka" sweet twice. Both times, I was reviewing ice cream because that was the proper context into which I personally believed monaka belonged. For those who don't know, and there's no reason why you should, monaka is often called a "wafer" and is similar in texture and flavor to the cake cones that your mom buys as inadequate receptacles for a scoop of ice cream. That is to say, they taste like nothing and have a spongy texture. I swear that the vast majority of cake cones sold in America these days are not for holding ice cream, but rather for baking novelty cupcakes.

My ambivalence toward monaka was lifted recently when I saw a package of 3 chestnut monaka treats on sale at Nijiya market for $2.49. Most of the bean/chestnut paste sweets there are massively over-priced and I have been hankering for chestnut for quite some time so this lured me into the monaka world.

The truth is that not all monaka are created equal. While I've had some which are the texture (and taste) of Styrofoam, the case on these was rather different. Yes, it is still essentially flavorless, but it is super flaky and almost wispy. It flaked like super fine pastry instead of made my misaligned teeth attempt to tear it asunder. I can't say I loved it, but I can say that it didn't in any way detract from my enjoyment of the filling inside, and the filling is really what this is all about.

Inside of the flower-shaped wafer is a generous amount of bean paste with bits of chestnut mixed in. It is rather surprisingly sweet for a Japanese traditional treat. By the end of one cake (which is all I can eat at one sitting), it was just on the edge of cloying without going over. Honestly, it made my teeth hurt even with coffee to drink between bites. The texture was oddly chewy in spots, which I imagine was something about the rather roughness of the puree.

Despite how sweet this was, I really liked it. I could have used more chestnut and less red bean flavoring, but I really enjoyed the delicate texture of the monaka coupled with the jam. The flavor was good with the chestnut, if not shining through, cutting out the intense "beaniness" which you sometimes experience with anko.

Note that the nutrition information I was given was a bit of a cheat. There are 3 cakes in the package, but the calorie information is given for 4 servings of 84 calories. Each is actually 112 calories. Since the ingredients list is headed by "sugar", neither the sweetness nor calories are a shock. Beans, which by weight are surely a huge part of this, is 4th on the list. That's a lot of sugar!

The company that makes these is Adachi Sangyo, and I was frankly surprised that they have a web site as many of smallish makers of traditional sweets in boring packaging never put up a web site. They make a small range of snacks which are all very much "Japanese". The focus is on monaka, daifuku, dorayaki, and jelly (gelatin) treats. If I were in Japan still, I'd keep my eyes peeled for their chestnut daifuku because it looks pretty awesome. Unfortunately, even if I were still there, I'd be unlikely to locate them as this is one of those businesses that has limited distribution. One thing I definitely learned is that being in the thick of things in Japan is no guarantee of finding a particular Japanese release. Some things are easier to find here than they were there, quite frankly.

Though I really liked these, and I'd buy them again for the same $2.49 (214 yen), I'm not sure others with different tastes would share my enjoyment of them. Monaka is, in my opinion, a bit of an acquired taste texturally, even good monaka. Bean jam is even more so, and this is pretty sweet stuff. Nonetheless, I'd buy it again.

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