Wagashi: Shiruko (Red Azuki Bean ‘Soup’)

Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean Porridge 汁粉

Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉
Shiruko is a hot, sweet soup-like dessert flavored with azuki beans and mochi that is very popular in Japan. It can be found on the menus of traditional style tea houses. I was given an elegant set of 5 shiruko in packages on the theme of the Daimonji. Daimonji is an event unique to Kyoto in which huge Chinese characters and pictograms bonfires are burned on the mountainsides of Kyoto in late August. Each serving of shiruko in this set is in an edible toasted mochi package that melts when hot water is poured on it. Each mochi package is branded with one of the 5 bonfire symbols.

Shiruko usually is a thick and sweet soupy paste of boiled and crushed azuki beans and is often garnished with mochi and candied chestnuts. This is a Kyoto-style shiruko is a bit more refined. Each serving is a sealed, toasted, seared and branded envelop made from mochi flour, this cracker-like shell is called monaka in Japanese. The azuki beans are finely powdered and mixed with sugar and potato starch. To prepare you simply break apart the package in a bowl and pour on boiling water. After a minute or so it is ready to slurp or spoon. The monaka mochi envelop is of course edible as well. It has an earthy, toasted rice taste and is pleasantly gooey and spongy after soaking.

Kyogozan Shiruko Package
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉
The Chinese characters; 京 (Kyoto), 五 (five), 山 (mountain) are read as Kyogozan in Japanese. These are the five mountains around the city where the bonfires are burned.

Kyogozan Shiruko Package Opened
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉
This is a bit over-packaged but not too bad by Japanese standards. (I took out some bubble wrap for this photo.) The paper explains about the Kyogozan. Of course everyone that can afford to shop for this kind of wagashi knows the history. There are also beautifully printed preparation instructions.

Daimonji Bonfire
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉
This is the largest of the characters. ‘大’ means ‘great’.

Kyogozan Shiruko
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Daimonji: A festival like non other in the entire world! Daimonji, literally means ‘great (big) character’. On a mid-August night massive bonfires are burned on 5 mountainsides surrounding Kyoto in the form of Chinese characters and pictograms to guide the visiting spirits back to the other world.

The Five Mountains
大 Daimonji This character means ‘great’ and is the ironic character of the custom.
妙 法 Myo Ho These two characters refer to the teachings of Buddhism and are a part of a mantra.
Funagata Funagata is a pictogram of a boat.
大 Hidari Daimonji Hidari Daimonji literally means ‘left’ daimonji, it is far smaller and on a hill in the west of the city.
Toriigata Toriigata is a pictogram of the torii gate that marks the enterence to a Shinto shrine.
(quoted from this KyotoFoodie article)

Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Dai (大) Character
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Myo Ho (妙 法) Characters
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Funa (boat) Pictogram
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – ‘Left’ Dai (大) Character
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉
This dai is smaller than the first.

Kyogozan Shiruko Detail – Torii (Shinto Shrine Gate) Pictogram
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Preparation

Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Break
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Pour
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Stir and Wait
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

Kyogozan Shiruko Preparation and Serving – Slurp
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉
Most people would use a spoon.

How Did it Taste?
It tasted very good. I was surprised how much I liked the soft and spongy toasted monaka package. I really like how that ‘package’ is eaten, and not just eaten, it adds an essential flavor to the overall balance and complexity.

The ingredients are simply: mochi rice, azuki bean, sugar, potato starch and salt. The elegance of the taste comes from the selection of the ingredients, preparation and presentation. That is what makes Kyoto ‘different’, or so we say.

Who Makes This Wagashi?
This wagashi is made by Suetomi. We featured them in this article last year about namagashi for the tea ceremony and while their wagashi tastes just fine, their haughty attitude leaves me with a yucky taste in my mouth. But it is not like I am not grateful, thanks to cold, stuck-up, pretentious phonies like Suetomi, I was inspired to start my new project: OpenKyoto. You can read about my frustrations at ‘Trying to Open Kyoto‘ here. Please cheer me on! (I need it.)

Daimonji Gozan-no-Okuribi Viewing Party and Torii ‘Gate’ Bonfire
I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend a Gozan-no-Okuribi viewing party in Sagano, the still somewhat rural western edge of the city. This area has the torii shrine gate which cannot really be seen from central Kyoto anymore. This year was the first year that I had seen it up close. The hosts kindly sent each of us off with a box of this wonderful shiruko . Read this article on OpenKyoto for more.

Torii Bonfire and Floating Lanterns on Hirosawa Pond
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Theme Shiruko Red Azuki Bean 'Soup' 大文字 汁粉

7 Responses to “Wagashi: Shiruko (Red Azuki Bean ‘Soup’)”

  1. Arun says:

    That looks lovely! It must be also a pretty unique preparation of oshiruko, I’ve never seen anything like it! I love how the characters look almost branded onto the shell.

  2. nova says:

    that is very cool. i love how it is so simple and is packaged so ingeniously!

  3. Peko Peko says:

    Hello Arun, Shiruko often is available in attractive paper bag and cup-like packages. Edible ‘packages’ are not unknown, but this one is pretty neat. I agree, the branded characters and pictograms on the monaka shell is very nice.

    Hello nova, Thanks for stopping by KyotoFoodie and commenting!

  4. Wow, what a neat dessert! I would love to try this if I can find it!

  5. Forager says:

    What a novel way of packaging and eating red azuki bean soup. I can almost taste the roasted flavour.. but I can’t. Your blog makes me want to travel in Japan!

  6. Tess says:

    Those look beautiful, and I’d surely love to taste, but I have an off-topic question. A reader of mine is looking for a recipe for “milk senbai.
    He says,”They were the traditional sweets sold by Japanese Kamishibayia street storytellers prior show.” I’ve posted the question on my site, but I wonder if you have heard of them?

  7. diva says:

    yay daimonji!
    ah what a clever way to prepare this just by breaking it up and pouring hot water over. LOVE shiruko.

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