This traditional confection is pretty to look at, but how’s the taste?

Our Japanese-language reporter Tasuku Egawa recently discovered a shop in Tokyo’s Shibuya district called Omotesando Niigatakan N’espace, which specializes in local goods originating from Niigata Prefecture. This discovery was particularly exciting because he’d heard of a particular sweet from Niigata called amemonaka (飴もなか) but had never gotten a chance to try it before. Luckily, the store had plenty of the little cakes in stock.

First, it’s worth noting that the amemonaka is essentially an amalgamation of two popular types of traditional Japanese sweets. A monaka is a kind of wafer cake typically filled with red bean jam. This particular version, however, derives its name from its atypical filling of mizu-ame, a sweet starch syrup not unlike Yamanashi Prefecture’s famous water cake in appearance.

Amemonaka are produced at Chomeido Ameho, a traditional confectionery store in Niigata Prefecture. While the date of their original creation was lost to time, records indicate that they were definitely in existence by 1931.

A box of five retails for 705 yen (US$6.52) at Omotesando Niigatakan N’espace, and each individually wrapped cake is adorned with a cute illustration of a woman wearing a long, triangular snow hat and snowshoes. It conjured up an image of traditional daily life in Japan’s snowiest regions in Egawa’s mind.

He flipped the package over and noticed that the expiration date was just shy of two months later–not too bad for a traditional confection. The only ingredients listed were mizu-ame, glutinous rice, agar-agar (a vegetable gelatin), and sugar.

Egawa next gently unwrapped the package and noted the beautifully delicate design of the wafer. “Amemonaka” was written alongside what looked to be an old man’s mask, while “Chomeido” graced the opposite side. From its exterior, the amemonaka looked similar to an ordinary monaka cake.

Now for the fun part–breaking it open:

As the wafer broke open, threads of glistening mizu-ame fanned out. Egawa broke into a smile while musing how such a simple act made him feel like a kid again. He had fun pulling the two halves apart and pushing them back together again while watching the shiny mizu-ame shift in form.

The amemonaka’s taste was simple but respectable, reminiscent of a trove of classic Japanese sweets. Compared to a regular monaka filled with read bean jam, it boasted an altogether different texture in the center–making for an enjoyable and new gastronomic experience. Egawa could imagine the amemonaka as a perfect complement to a hot cup of tea.

All in all, he encourages anyone who has a sweet tooth for monaka or ame-mizu or who enjoys “playing” with their food to try it out! If you can’t get to Niigata, the sweet treats can be ordered through Chomeido’s official website, upscale Japanese department store Takashimaya, or through other boutiques carrying local specialties from Niigata.

Sources: Chomeido, Takashimaya
All images © SoraNews24
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