Monday, October 15, 2012
Kinjo Imo Yokan
Part of the unwritten "mission" of this blog is to allow people who encounter what appears to be odd Japanese snacks to understand what they're buying. Another part is for me to just have an outlet to prattle on about and try and be creative about something which is, at its core, pretty mundane (talking about food). Sometimes I succeed at one or both of these, and at others, well, I just phone it in because I'm only making like 10 cents a post here from my ads and I can't always bust my brain pan for you people... not that I wouldn't like to, but sometimes life is rather busy and sometimes I'm rather lazy.
Yokan is definitely one of those mysteries to the average tourist or newcomer. The history of this sweet is mentioned on Wikipedia, but essentially it's one of those things the Japanese ripped off from another country (in this case, China), and then gets credit for inventing. This is like "Japanese cheesecake", castella, chitose ame, and "Japanese bread (shoku pan)". I thought this might have been some sort of effort to preserve food, but it's actually a variation on a Chinese treat made from boiled sheep. Yum. Yum. I'm glad that Buddhists decided it would better to thicken things with agar agar and red bean paste and let the poor sheep alone.
I found this, alone with many other yokan options, at Daiso Japan, but this is an extremely popular and easy to find treat in Japan as well as Nijiya Japanese markets in the U.S. It is cheap (only $1.50) and keeps for quite awhile. In the summer, it's nice if you eat it chilled, but I generally think the flavor is better at room temperature.
This doesn't really smell like sweet potato, but it does have a distinct aroma which is hard to put ones finger on. It smells like something sweet, like sugar that has been cooked for a long time, but without any strong notes of a particular scent. The flavor is like red bean paste mixed with sweet potato that has just reached an intensity before it becomes overbearing and settled at the furthest point before it becomes unpalatable. It's intense, but not in a bad way. Unsurprisingly, because the second and third ingredients respectively are sugar and corn syrup, it's quite sweet, but not cloying. This isn't meant to be wolfed down. The whole 4.8 oz./130 gram bar is supposed to be two and a half servings (a whopping 170 calories per serving), after all.
The real star for me of this is the texture. It is firm, but smooth, and has just a bit of grain from the beans. It's like gelatin, but without the slippery, slickness of it and with more flavor depth and just enough texture to give it heft. I wouldn't be surprised if part of the process of making this was to finely filter it such that very little that hasn't been pureed into smithereens didn't get through.
I loved this, but then I love both bean paste and sweet potato. That being said, this is far from the "beaniest" treat that one can have in Japan and is very accessible to those who hate anko. It's a good gateway experience for those who think the whole idea of sweet bean paste is gag-inducing, at least if they like sweet potato. The texture is like the inside of a jelly bean, and that can't be wrong, can it? I'd definitely buy this again.