Friday, November 27, 2009
Japanese food has a reputation for freshness and Japanese people value it, yet you do find that there are a fair number of foods that are prepared and sold in a state which is anything but. I'd been eyeballing this variety pack of manjuu (various bean cakes) for quite some time, but I'd been resisting it because I knew they were going to be dry. These were relatively cheap for the number of very small cakes (18 for 250 yen/$2.78), so I figured I'd take the plunge and give them a try. I'm trying to branch out into snack areas that I haven't covered much and manjuu has been rather neglected.
I'm not sure what the target demographic is supposed to be for this product or how people are supposed to regard them. Do you keep them on hand for guests who pop in for tea? Do you keep them around for your kids or grandma to have as a snack with tea? I can say that they aren't high quality enough to serve formally or to give as gifts. That doesn't mean they are bad, but it does mean that they are second-rate, consumer-level manjuu.
The manufacturer, Marukyo Seika, makes a variety of bean-filled treats including selling all of the components of this variety pack in single flavor packs. If one of these is a hit, I can then buy a whole bag of them if I like. One of the appealing points of these cakes is supposed to be the appearance. You'll note that 3 of them have fairly nice designs and the ones which are ugly lumps stay hidden from view on the package cover.
Red bean mix:
This is the biggest of the cakes at a little over 5 cm (about 2 in.) in diameter. There are only 2 of them in the package and each is 100 calories. After you get to the inside, it smells of red beans. Yes, that's quite a surprise. The beans are very dense and moist and have a pleasant taste. The cake is appreciably, but not overly, sweet and the exterior cake has almost no flavor of its own and its texture is indistinguishable from the moist bean filling. The beans are very finely mashed and densely packed so this would be good for someone who doesn't like the texture of beans but enjoys the flavor.
This is designed to resemble a chestnut with a top that has been brushed with egg or some other wash to make the top brown more heavily and tiny seeds across the bottom. There were only two of these in the package as they were some of the larger cakes. The smell you get, even when it is cut open, is most of the cake exterior which is thin, pliable and flavorless. The interior is very dry. It's almost like densely packed powder with some somewhat firmer bits of chestnut in it. The flavor was very good, modestly sweet chestnut flavor, but the texture too dry. This was 74 calories and 5 cm (1.9) wide at the longest points.
This variety had a more cake-like exterior with a better texture and it seemed to also carry some classic flavors like butter (or margarine). It was slightly sweeter than the aforementioned chestnut one, but had a somewhat less dry interior. For those who are squeamish about bean cake flavors and texture, this might be a better bet. This is blandly nice. There were 4 of these and each is a mere 43 calories. They are 5 cm x 3 cm (1.9 in. x 1.1 in.).
This doesn't smell like anything in particular. It has a cake-like smell and the texture is moist and almost doughy. It's quite sweet with a subtle bean flavor. These are only 40 calories because they're so tiny, about 3 cm (1.2 in.) in diameter.
This looks, smells, and is the same size as the soba manju. It's also only 40 calories. The main difference is the very subtle green tea flavor which tends to come across mainly as a roasted flavor. It's actually pretty good. It's a green tea manju for those who don't like strong green tea flavors. Like the soba version, it's also quite moist and has a doughy texture.
I had the highest hopes for the chestnut one, but it actually was one of the least appealing due to its parched interior and somewhat leathery exterior shell. The one I liked best was the soba manju because it was moistest and had a pleasant flavor. The second best one was the red bean mix, again, because of the moister interior.
This was a nice enough mix, though definitely not the best bean cake experience one can have. You can get better off of the same shelves in the market that these are sold on, but you can't necessarily get the same low price, longevity and variety. The two types of bean cakes that I reviewed previously were much better than these, but they also cost a lot more and are not built to last. I probably wouldn't buy these again, but that's only because I have a lot of other better options. It's not that these are bad in any way. They simply aren't great.