Tuesday, April 26, 2011
What does it take in Japan for a sweet to be labeled with "tamago" (egg)? Well, apparently it just means that it has a white shell and a yellow center. I guess that actually makes it resemble a real egg more than the likes of a Cadbury Creme Egg since those poisonously delicious sugar delivery systems are brown on the outside. Suffice it to say, these cakes have zero in common with those infamous confections. That's actually a good thing.
These cakes are a souvenir that I picked up while looking at cherry blossoms in Ueno about a week or so ago. They were on sale at a famous snack shop in the shopping area of Ameyokocho. Because the shop sells a fair amount of discounted food, I got this box of 12 cakes about the diameter of a half dollar coin (4 cm/1.6 in.) for 580 yen (about $7). In a regular souvenir shop or via online outlets, they cost 700 yen ($8.44). when you buy these sorts of things in Japan, there is always a sample box with plastic versions that show a cutaway of the interior of the cakes. This is so you get a better idea of what you're buying considering the "gift wrapping" on the outside of the boxes.
Just as a note about the maker, Izumi Bussan, it's a Tokyo-based company which has no web profile. I can find maps to their office, but I can't find a link to anything else referring to them. Their main business is producing souvenirs like this. I sometimes wonder how many small companies do nothing more than make boxed treats that are sold in stations and snack shops for people to buy and parcel out at the office or at home.
A lot of these types of souvenirs fall into several rough categories. One is mochi (pounded rice cake) wrapped around a filling of beans, custard, or some other soft sweet center. Another is a thin somewhat bready shell around a more solid center (chestnuts, sweet potato). And yet another, which this sweet falls into the category of, is a steamed cake with a soft filling. Steam cakes in Japan are often a very rich and fatty affair made with lots of eggs or margarine. It's the eggs, especially the use of the yolks, that makes them so good. I haven't met a steam cake here that I didn't like, though I have met many that I didn't absolutely love.
The cakes smell of margarine and general baked sweetness. The texture is very soft and the flavor richly eggy and quite sweet. The custard in the center is quite thick, and you get the feeling that this is either because they are designed to last awhile or that some of the moisture of the center is absorbed into the surrounding cake. Through time, I wonder if it'd turn into a pudding rock in the center. Fortunately, these are good enough that I'm not inclined to leave them sitting around long enough to find out.
My husband didn't care for these because they had a particular flavor that he didn't care for. Whatever it was, it didn't bother me, but I'm pretty sure that I could detect what he was referring to. One of the ingredients is sweetened lotus milk, and I wonder if that is the strange thing he dislikes.
I liked these quite fine. They're not the greatest souvenir I've ever had, but they were tasty and sweet with a lovely texture. I really did like the flavor and I'd certainly consider buying them again if they were on sale. They wouldn't be the kind of thing I'd revisit immediately or often, but I'd welcome them a few times a year.