Thursday, November 25, 2010

Koganei Imo

I try not to cover too many freshly produced sweets that can only be purchased if you actually live in or visit Tokyo. However, this is an exception because it is the first bean cake in Japan that I actually loved. It is, by far, the most accessible Japanese sweet for Western palates while maintaining a completely Japanese nature. Maybe everyone won't adore it as I do, but there's almost zero chance that a set of fully Westernized taste buds will dislike it.

 The box of 12 as it is given to us.

Koganei Imo means "golden (colored) potato", and while that is what these are called, they are not made with potato. They are simply fashioned to resemble one. The actual cake is finely mashed white beans mixed with sugar and egg yolk then wrapped in a tender crust and liberally rolled in cinnamon. It is the cinnamon that gives these the real edge over any other bean cake I have tried, but they are also incredible because they are hand made and fresh everyday.

The box under the paper wrapper with silk-screened (by hand, very likely) paper. This is classic Japanese gift wrapping with a layer of wrapping under a top layer.

The interior of the cakes is soft and sweet and the aroma of cinnamon wafts at you the minute you start to peel back the paper on in. If you warm one just a bit in the microwave (don't overdo it), they are a slice of cinnamon heaven which carry all of the appeal of a cinnamon bun without the calories or sugary overload. The beans themselves lend only texture and not taste so there's no need to be squeamish about them because they're made with beans. The filling carries mostly the sugar flavor with the richness of the egg yolks.

A whole cake with it's wrapper covered with cinnamon. It's supposed to look like a potato. You can judge what it looks like.

You can buy these in Ningyocho in Tokyo at a shop called Kotobukido. There's a good write up on the shop with address and phone number at Tokyo Food Life and another write-up at Food Sake Tokyo. They are a little expensive, but well worth the cost. My box of 12 cost 1250 yen ($15.15). Each is about 6-7 cm (2.4 -2.7 inches) long and makes for a modest treat. You can buy them individually in paper packets or in souvenir size gift boxes. The shop will serve you hot tea in the winter and cold in the summer when you enter, and you can eat your bean cake there or take it with you.

If you visit Tokyo, I strongly recommend seeking out this shop and sampling this unique and approachable sweet. I go there less often than I'd like, but when I do I buy a dozen, immediately wrap their paper wrappers with plastic wrap and freeze them for long-term enjoyment. They don't suffer for it, and 20-25 seconds in the microwave takes one from frozen log to cinnamony ambrosia.


Patzie said...

Shamed that I only know about this when I return home from Tokyo. Maybe next year!

Anyway, just to let you know that I have visited Okachi no machioka in Omiya as you have mentioned before on getting snacks/sweets from it. It was amazing! The shop was small yet I felt like I was kid in Disney Land. Enjoy buying everything so thank you for sharing that with us!

Orchid64 said...

Hi, Patzie, and thanks for reading and commenting!

I'm really glad to hear that you found an Okashi no Machioka and found it full of delights. There are more and more of those shops around Tokyo as time goes by and some are bigger than others.

Nora said...

Are these the kinds of sweets you might be able to find at the big souvenir-foods dealers, such as the ones in the basement of Tokyo Station, or at a kiosk on the Shinkansen platform? They sound so delicious, but when I visit Tokyo, I rarely have the chance to venture much further out.

Orchid64 said...

Unfortunately, these are the kind of thing you can only get at one shop in Tokyo. That's part of what makes them so good (they're not mass-produced), but also one of the reasons I rarely review such things. They're exclusive to one location, but worth the time to track down if you are in Tokyo.

Thanks for commenting!