“I want to be crisp.” Very ‘Kyoto’ and ‘un-Kyoto’; it’s ‘do it yourself’ anko paste in monaka cookies! Not only that, the monaka cookie is the shape and design of a maiko’s lipstick compact. This wagashi turned out to be a lot of fun and solves a vexing problem for monaka aficionados.
’Do It Yourself’ Azuki and Monaka 京べに
Happy Birthday Dear Miwa
It was Miwa‘s birthday the other day and one of her co-workers gave her this interesting Kyoto wagashi called Kyo beni, literally Kyoto lipstick. I got to try some and here is what I thought:
At first sight I was like; Huh, Tsuruya Yoshinobu makes canned sweets now? What is the world coming to? The packaging is very un-shinise.
Kyobeni: Monaka Wafer and Ogura Anko – Package
Tokyo vs. Kyoto
While novel and modern, Kyobeni is not weird or nouveau. Being nouveau for the sake of being nouveau is what Tokyo is all about and that is completely un-Kyoto.
D.I.Y. is not a tradition in Kyoto. Ideally, everything is done by someone whose specialty, whose purpose to exist, is to do that task. And equally ideally, you have a specialty so that you can afford to always pay or hire a specialist for what you want to need. For example, a metal smith that only makes handcrafted finger catches for sliding fusuma screens. You don’t just drop by Home Depot to pick up a Made in China finger catch. You hire a specialist craftsman to make one just for that screen, just for that room in the house.
Well, those days have largely past and in the last decade 100, now 99 Yen Shops, discount outlets and ‘do it yourself’ inspired home centers have sprung up all over Japan. Even in the suburbs of old Kyoto there are a few now. (Even this Kyoto foodie gets his favorite Japanese junk food at the 99 Yen Shop.)
Kyobeni: Monaka Wafer and Ogura Anko
Kyobeni: Do It Yourself – Spreading Anko
The Vexing Problem of Soggy Monaka and “I want to be crisp”
Louis Kahn, the philosopher poet-warrior architect said that if you ask a brick what it wants to be it will say, “I want to be an arch.” And then you can tell that brick that arches are very expensive and the same thing can be accomplished with a concrete lintel or steel beam, and the brink will say, “I still want to be an arch”. The Kyoto approach to cuisine is like this. If you ask monaka what it wants to be, it will say, “I want to be crisp”.
Monaka is a light and airy, extremely crisp cracker or cookie-like wafer that is usually used to make something like an Oreo Cookie; two wafers of monaka with an sweet azuki bean (anko) filling. I am lukewarm on both anko and monaka but I really enjoyed this. Though freshness is of the essence in Japanese cuisine, by the time that you sink your teeth into a pre-made monaka confection, the monaka has lost its crispness due to absorbing water from the anko paste.
Tsuruya Yoshinobu saves the day with a D.I.Y. version! The monaka and anko are packaged separately in airtight packages and you apply the anko paste at the time of consumption.
Kyobeni: Making the ‘Cookie’
What Makes it Kyobeni ‘Kyoto’
Kyo-beni The monaka cookie is in the shape of a maiko’s (geisha, geiko) lipstick compact.
Ogura-an This anko is chunky with many of the azuki beans retaining their shape. Mt Ogura is in the Western Hills of Kyoto, in the Sagano district. As the different species of trees on Mt Ogura change colors in the autumn, spots of differing color are created. To the ancient imagination, this was said to resemble the spots on a deer fawns coat. This anko is not uniform in texture and has variations, and is said to be like Mr Ogura. Hence, Ogura-an. (Kind of a stretch for what I consider my wild imagination.)
Kyobeni Characters on Wafer
京 (kyo, as in Kyoto), べに (beni, red, as in lipstick)
About Tsuruya Yoshinobu
Tsuruya Yoshinobu is a popular wagashi shinise from Nishijin that has successfully expanded and now has stores in many of the department store food courts throughout the country. Tsuruya Yoshinobu’s main store (honten) is on the north-west corner of Imadegawa and Horikawa streets in the Nishijin neighborhood.
One things though about these old shinise shops in Kyoto; they never change. (Or, so they say.)
Kyoto Souvenir Shopping List
Kyobeni ought to make a very good foodie souvenir to take back an authentic and crispy taste of Kyoto.
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