Ohagi-A Japanese Confectionery Related to Flowers

January 21, 2016

By Hikari Isaka and Maya Ito

Ohagi is made from boiled rice and red adzuki beans.

Ohagi is made from boiled rice and red adzuki beans.

Recently most Japanese eat ohagi. But in the old days, it was known as an expensive, luxurious sweet that Japanese only ate on special days. Ohagi is made from boiled rice and red adzuki beans. Its name comes from the bush clover, which blooms in September and is called ohagi in Japanese.

Japanese started to eat ohagi during the Edo period. People believed that red color of ohagi, which came from the red adzuki beans, was good luck, and helped prevent disaster from visiting upon them. It is said that ohagi is a foods exorcised the bad spirits. It is typically eaten during the autumnal equinox.

Botamochi is another kind of ohagi, but is eaten in the spring and named after “botan” or the peony flower. Japanese always eat botamochi during the spring equinox. The color of the adzuki beans to resembles the reds of these the seasonal flowers. However, in recent days, people are usually eating ohagi throughout the year.

The harvest season for Japanese adzuki beans is usually in the autumn. The sweetened bean paste of ohagi is made from these beans because these are fresh and soft. Therefore, the bean husks give the sweet bean paste a chunky texture. We call it tsubu-an in Japanese. On the other hand, the sweetened bean paste of botamochi is made with beans that have been kept through the winter. They are not so fresh. In addition the husks of beans kept throughout the winter have hardened, and so the texture on the tongue is a bit too rough, unlike the texture of the beans harvested in autumn. Accordingly, the sweetened bean paste of botamochi excludes the bean husks and is called koshi-an in Japanese. Japanese ate botamochi in spring a long time ago. However, we can eat both of these types of bean paste throughout the year due to current development preservation techniques. Nevertheless, the expiration date of Ohagi is short, and it must be eaten within a day.

The long-established store Imanishiken specializes in ohagi. Imanishiken was established at Karasuma-Gojo in1879 and recently opened up a branch in the and Takashimaya Department Store in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo for a limited period. It sells just three kinds of ohagi: Koshian, Tsubuan and Kinako-flavored. The shop hours are from 9:30a.m. until they are sold out. It is closed on Tuesday.

Imanishiken specializing in ohagi at Karasuma-Gojo

Imanishiken specializing in ohagi at Karasuma-Gojo

We visited this store twice because we could not purchase anything on our first trip since all of the ohagi had sold out within thirty minutes of the store opening. On the second day, we could buy only a few pieces of ohagi—the last remaining two. If you purchase ohagi at the main store we recommend you go before opening time.

All of the ohagi had sold out within thirty minutes.

All of the ohagi had sold out within thirty minutes.

 

 

Udon Soup

by Yukari Maruoka Miku Nogami

Udon is one of the famous Japanese foods. It is a thick noodle, made from wheat flour, that is served in a soup broth we call tsuyu.  There are many kinds of udon in Japan. For example, Okinawa has souki soba, Kagawa has sanuki udon, and Aichi has niso nikomi udon. But we will introduce standard udon and its soup.

   Udon is different between west and east Japan. The noodle is almost the same but the soup is different. The taste and the color of the soup in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo, are stronger and richer, respectively. In the Kansai area that includes Kyoto, the flavor is lighter and the soup is thinner. Many Kansai people are surprised when they see the brown tsuyu in Kanto, because in Kansai its pale color is clear. There are three different causes: soy sauce, stock, and water.

Soy sauce: Kanto people tend to leave the soup but Kansai people drink it up. Kanto’s soup is too strong to drink up. The kind and the amount of soy sauce are different between Kanto and Kansai. The salinity concentration in Kanto is 6.7%, twice or more higher than Kansai’s 2.5%. Light soy sauce is used in Kansai and deep soy sauce in Kanto. There is also a big difference in the amount of soy sauce used. Kanto cooks pour in four times as much as cooks in Kansai.

Stock: The aroma of Kanto’s soup is stronger than Kansai’s. There is a difference also in how the stock is made. Both Kansai and Kanto put seaweed in first. However, there is a difference in the amount of the fish stock and the boiling time. Kanto adds about twice as much stock as Kansai and whereas Kansai boils it for just five minutes, Kanto opts for one hour. Kansai’s tsuyu is made chiefly of seaweed, and Kanto’s of fish.

Water: Kanto uses hard water, and Kansai uses soft. When the seaweed is boiled, soft water is extracted along with a lot of good elements. The benefits of seaweed are not drawn out easily by the water of Kanto compared with that of Kansai.

History

Udon’s origin is from Chinese noodles first made in Japan’s Kamakura era (1185–1333), but it was only later, in the Muromachi era (1336 to 1573), that these noodles came to be called udon. It was a kind of high class food at that time, so many people couldn’t get the chance to eat it, especially farmers. In the Edo era (1603-1868), the western route along the Sea of Japan was developing more than the Eastern Pacific Ocean route, which is why the seaweed (kelp) from Hokkaido, which is used for making udon’s tsuyu, was transported to Osaka through Edo (now Tokyo).

Cup-noodle udon

One cup noodle company is making udon in both Kansai and Kanto regional tastes. They use a different stock when they make it. Of course the soup’s color is different. You can see a mark on the package label that says either “E” or “W”. It means East and West. You can buy them in each area. It is very good merchandise for us, because it is cheap and easy to try both tastes even you don’t stay in the other area. Also it has a long enough shelf life, because it’s an instant noodle, so you can eat it anytime you want. Foreigner often like it, and they can bring some back to their country for souvenirs.

Conclusion

Japan has a long history, and an abundant traditional culture. Food is one of the key elements of our culture, and many foods have been handed down from our ancestors, most of which we still keep eating. Although udon was once a food for the high-born wealthy class, it isn’t anymore, so we can eat it anytime we want. Nowadays a certain udon chain restaurant has become popular because it’s very cheap and tasty. My friend who is from Kansai and I, from Kanto, both love their udon soup! If you haven’t tried udon yet, why not treat yourself to a bowl today?