Wagashi of the Month: November

As autumn deepens and it gets cooler, leaves change colour into bright red and yellow.

Wagashi of the Month in November is fallen Momiji, or Japanese maple leaves on the bottom of river.


Autumn colour from my album:

Day Trip to Hakone – Nov. 2011
Lake Ashinoko, Hakone – Nov. 2011
Tokyo in late autumn, 2014

I’ll add some more photos from a local autumn festival last month.

There are countless local festivals (Matsuri) in Japan because almost every shrine celebrates one of its own. Most festivals are held annually and celebrate the shrine’s deity or a seasonal or historical event. Some festival are held over several days.

An important element of Japanese festivals are processions, in which the local shrine’s Kami (Shinto deity) is carried through the town in Mikoshi (palanquins). It is the only time of the year when the Kami leaves the shrine to be carried around town.

(source: japan-guide.com)





Wagashi of the Month: September

‘Moon Rabbit’ and ‘Chrysanthemum’ for September

Of all the year’s 12 full moons, the harvest moon in autumn is considered to be the most beautiful here in Japan. There is a moon viewing custom to admire the beauty at the night on 15th August in the lunar calendar, which falls on 15th of September this year. The night is called Jugoya, the night of 15th, and it is said that the moon at Jugoya is the brightest, most beautiful and most sublime of the year although the moon is not always full.

Tsuki Usagi, Moon Rabbit

Why rabbit?

The moon rabbit in folklore is a rabbit that lives on the moon. … The story exists in many cultures, prominently in East Asian folklore and Aztec mythology. In East Asia, it is seen pounding in a mortar and pestle, but the contents of the mortar differ among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean folklore. In Chinese folklore, it is often portrayed as a companion of the Moon goddess Chang’e, constantly pounding the elixir of life for her; but in Japanese and Korean versions, it is pounding the ingredients for rice cake. (source: wikipedia)

On the surface of the moon, Japanese people see not ‘a man in the moon’ but a rabbit pounding Mochi, rice cake.

Mochitsuki – pounding rice cake

Click for more about Tsukimi, moon viewing.

sugar candies: full moon, mountains, Chinese bellflowers, rabbits
full moon and rabbits


Another one is Kiku, or chrysanthemum, which symbolises autumn.

Kiku, chrysanthemum


Kiku is a symbol of Japan itself as well as Sakura, cherry blossom. I should have put a sword next to the chrysanthemum?


Daigaku Imo – Japanese Caramelised Sweet Potatoes

This time of year, autumn, is harvest season. In Western countries, mainly in North America, Britain and Ireland, the pumpkin is one of the most symbolic crops of the autumn harvest because it represents Halloween. In Japan, there are other crops, but the sweet potato is one of the most popular. It is popular, because it is flavoursome and, at the same time, affordable – unlike a genuine Japanese Matsutake mushroom, another autumn dainty, that costs as much as Kobe Beef!

There is a Japanese saying, ‘Imo, Tako, Nankin’ – a sweet potato, octopus and a squash. This is from a line in Ukiyo Zoshi, or Tales of the Floating World, by Saikaku Ihara (1642-1693), a Japanese poet and a novelist in the early Edo Period. In this tale, Ihara describes these three items as foods that women adore. (The sweet crops could be easily understood, but why octopus? Many Japanese women love it, but I wonder if this affinity is the same in other countries where octopus is eaten.)

The original line, to be precise, is actually ‘Shibai (plays), Joruri (a form of traditional Japanese narrative music accompanied by a Shamisen or Samisen, a Japanese three-string musical instrument), Imo, Tako, Nankin’. However, the first two items have since been dropped from the line, and saying now emphasises only their appetite for these three foods!

Today I will introduce an easy-to-make and yet tasty Japanese snack made of sweet potatoes, which is not only the favourite of women, but also the general populace: Daigaku Imo, which literally translates to ‘university potato’.

Why is this snack named after a university? There are some interesting and dubious anecdotes on this: About 80 years ago, a student/s (not clear if one or more) at the University of Tokyo, one of the best national universities, made and sold the snack for his/their tuition. Another story, which is more likely, dating back to about 100 years ago, is that there used to be a shop selling steamed sweet potatoes near the university, and when they started to sell a variety coated with syrup, it became popular amongst the student body.

Anyway, what is Daigaku Imo like? I discovered that ’candied sweet potato’ exists in Western countries and ’basi di qua’ in Chinese dishes. But even though the former describes the Japanese snack and the latter looks similar, but both are quite different from Daigaku Imo, which is crispy, yet soft and moist inside. More precisely, the sweet potato snack is deep fried and caramel-coated. Here is the recipe. Enjoy!

Daigaku Imo (authentic)


600g sweet potatoes

vegetable oil for frying

[syrup to coat sweet potato pieces] Try B if Shoyu and Mirin are available!
A: Plain             90g sugar        4 tbsp (60ml) water
B: Authentic    4 tbsp sugar    4 tbsp Mirin     2 tbsp water
2 tbsp Shoyu, or Japanese soy sauce

1 tsp black sesame seeds (optional)


  1. Scrub the sweet potatoes very well and cut into rolling wedges or chunks. (leave the red skin on for colour)
  2. Leave the pieces in water for about 10 mins. Drain and dry with a towel or paper.
    (optional: leave in water with 1 tbsp salt for 30 mins. Drain and dry in the sun for half a day or microwave (600W) for 2 mins. The salt brings out sweetness and the sun-drying helps to make them ‘crispy, yet soft and moist inside’.)
  3. Heat the oil in a large/deep pan till around 150C and fry until softened.
  4. Take the potato pieces out of the oil once and then fry again in 180C oil until lightly browned. This will make them crispy.
  5. For syrup, mix A or B in a pan over medium-low heat. Stir the mixture until completely melted. Bring to a boil and simmer without stirring until thickened and lightly golden brown.
  6. Put the pieces into the syrup, and mix and toss until well coated.
  7. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

 They are best served warm, but be careful – both the potato pieces and the syrup are very hot!!

(The article, first contributed to a newsletter in 2012, was revised and posted on 23rd September 2015.)

Zwiebelkuchen – German Onion Tart

Just before the summer has gone, we had a potluck picnic.

A friend of mine was going to bring red wine with her, so I  chose white summer wine. ‘Something good cold too’ needed to be prepared for Riesling. I had just learnt through my cooking that the wine goes well with heavy cream, so Zwiebelkuchen, quiche-like German onion tart immediately came to mind as it had stuck to me recently.

During my holiday in Germany last month, Federweißer (literally means ‘white feather’ in German), a fizzy alcoholic beverage fermented from freshly pressed grape juice, traditionally served with  Zwiebelkuchen  was on my ‘to-eat/drink’ list. One day at a wine tasting table, Rotwein the Foodie, who doesn’t understand any German except some words, never failed to catch the word  when the locals chatting with the winemaker mentioned ‘Federweißer’. Unhesitatingly she asked the winemaker in expectation.

“Too early!!”

was his reply, sad to say. Actually, in some German wine regions, people enjoy the combination in autumn, normally in September and October – just before the fermented grape juice turns to be wine in wine making process, and mid-August was not the right time yet unfortunately. 😦

So Zwiebelkuchen was missed out of the list as well – one of the regrets I left undone in Germany. Anyway, the Riesling (fresh and slightly fizzy white wine) and the Zwiebelkuchen matched well and turned out to be more than the compensation, and besides, they were perfect for the picnic to farewell the summer and welcome the autumn.

Zwiebelkuchen before baking

Ingredients (for 20-22cm pie plate)

A: sour cream
180ml lukewarm heavy cream (30-40℃)     2 tbsp yogurt
(substitute: 200ml crème fraîche will work)
B: Dough
200g flour      100ml milk      40g butter, room temperature
1 tbsp sugar   ½ tsp salt    1 tsp dry yeast
C:  Filling
100g bacon, chopped
3.5 – 4 medium onions (650-700g), sliced thinly
1 – 2 tsp salt (adjust to taste; 2 tsp as appetizer for alcohol)
D:  Egg Filling
2 eggs      4 tbsp flour      1 tsp caraway seeds


  • Sour Cream
    Stir the yogurt into the lukewarm heavy cream, and leave it in a warm place overnight or for half a day. (If you use crème fraîche, this process not required)
  • Dough
    Put Ingredient B (except milk) into a bowl, then make a well, pour in milk and bring together. Knead for 5 mins until smooth. Cover with a tea towel or clingfilm and set aside for at least 30 mins.
  • Filling
    Saute the bacon over low heat (no need to be crispy) and set aside. Then  saute the onion slowly in the bacon fat adding salt on low heat until translucent and beginning to brown. Set aside to cool.
  • Egg Filling
    Whisk the eggs and the flour together in a bowl, stir in the sour cream and caraway seeds, and put the onion and bacon in.
  • Preheat the oven 190℃
  • Roll dough out on a lined and lightly floured pie plate. Lightly prick the base of the tart with a fork, and pour the egg filling with onion and bacon mixture over the dough.
  • Put it on the lower rack of the oven and bake for 40-50 mins, or until golden brown on top.

Zwiebelkuchen by Rotwein

Oma’s Reibekuchen served at 5.00 pm every Friday is another regret, hmmmmm