Tokyo’s Best Mamé Daifuku

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Wagashi, traditional Japanese confectionaries, are often made with azuki, tiny red beans, and mochi, sticky rice pounded until its like a taffy. While I grew up eating some of these, I was never a big fan until I tried the mamé daifuku from Mizuho in Harajuku.

The smooth azuki paste is not too sweet. But what makes this sweet, about the size of my fist, are the ever-so-lightly salted black beans that are in the mochi. It is often listed in magazines and television programs as one of the best mamé daifuku in the city, and for good reasons.

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Mizuho is located on one of the narrow streets off of Omotesando. The shop opens at 8:30 a.m. and closes when it sells out. It is closed on Sundays.

If you are not a fan of wagashi, try Mizuho. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Mizuho 瑞穂

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-8-7

Toraya Cafe in Omotesando

 

 

There is no better way to beat the Tokyo heat in the middle of the day than with an ice-cold sweet. This suika (watermelon) mizore at Toraya Cafe in Omotesando Hills hits the spot. What caught my attention to this when I first spotted it on a friend’s facebook page was that it comes with a rum syrup.

The bottom of the glass has a not too sweet kuromitsu (brown sugar) and rum syrup. It was a little thick so I am guessing that it had a little bit of Toraya’s famous An Paste (a creamy azuki paste that I love on toast).  On top of the watermelon ice was some azuki beans as well as some soy milk ice cream. This is part of a summer promotion and is only available in August.

Toraya Cafe is perfect if you are by yourself. It’s also a great place to visit with a friend. While Omotesando and Harajuku can be filled with people I find this is usually a tranquil spot to relax over Japanese sweets. The cafe also serves a light lunch but it is the wafu sweets that make this a special place for me. This online menu has great photos of their menu.

There is also a counter that sells some of their most popular items. Toraya Cafe also has branches in Roppongi Hills and in Aoyama.

Toraya Cafe

Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 4-12-10, Omotesando Hills B1

 

Gyokueido in Ningyocho 人形町の玉英堂

Gyokueidou 玉英堂

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-3-2 中央区日本橋人形町2-3-2

03-3666-2625

9:30 – 21:00 (Monday – Saturday), until 17:00 (Sunday and holidays)

closed the last Sunday of each month

www.ningyocho.or.jp/shop/a28.html (Japanese)

Commanding the corner, this branch of a Kyoto shop dates back 400 years. Gyokueidou is famous for two sweets, its dorayaki of pancakes stuffed with azuki paste and gyokuman. The gyokuman is a large sweet manju that is several layers around a chestnut of azuki paste, pink an, white an, and the manju cake dough, made from sticky yamaimo that encompasses it all.

Toukai in Ningyocho  人形町の東海

 

Toukai 東海

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 1-16-12 中央区日本橋人形町1-16-12

03-3666-7063

9:00 – 19:00, closed Sunday and holidays

no website

For almost 100 years Toukai has been a popular wagashi shop in Ningyocho. Be sure to pick up their signature Japanese-style waffles. There is a small selection of other wagashi confectionaries. Across the street is a well-stocked sake shop.

Tsukushi in Ningyocho 人形町のつくし

 

Tsukushi つくし

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-1-12 中央区日本橋人形町2-1-12

03-3664-7357

8:00 – 20:00

www.ntv.co.jp/burari/030329/info02.html  (Japanese)

Tsukushi is a kanmidokoro (sweets café) that offers the classics of anmitsu and its many variations. There are sweets to go, but the real reason to come here is to sit and in the café to indulge in their signature purin, a dense, rich egg custard with an intense caramel sauce. Have it on its own, or try it in an anmitsu with azuki beans and canned fruits.

Food Gifts – Omiyage from Tokyo 東京のお土産

Omiyage most often describes gifts that you pick up while traveling that you bring back to your family, friends, and colleagues. For example, on a trip to Kyoto I may select some local jizake or wagashi for friends. For my colleagues at work I may pick up a box of yatsuhashi, a popular confectionary that Kyoto is known for.

It is important when selecting gifts that they are purchased at the correct price. You don’t want to give a gift that is too expensive or the recipient may feel the need to reciprocate, often referred to as okaeshi. I learned about this while working at Takashimaya. The occasion determines not only how much would be spent on a gift, but also how it may be wrapped.

If you need to send a gift to someone bring along their address and phone number. Most shops will arrange for a delivery service, many times for next-day delivery.

The gift-giving ritual in Japan is for another blog post, so for now, just my tips on what to look for and some suggestions for some of my favorite gifts from Tokyo. And as we enter the holidays, if you are invited to a friend’s home, consider bringing along one of the items listed below as a show of your appreciation.

Tips – look for gentei or limited production items. Shun or kisetsu are used to describe seasonal items. Alternatively, koko de shika meaning that the produce is sold only there or ima shika - that it is only being sold for a limited period.

Some popular omiyage at the moment include Baumkuchen, sweets in the form of a small sandwich, or rusks which are toasts, usually sweetened with sugar and maybe some butter.

Here are my favorite gifts from Tokyo.

Sawanoi Bon

Sawanoi Bon

Tokyo has a surprising number of sake kura (breweries) and this always makes for a nice gift for anyone who appreciates nihonshu. My personal favorite Tokyo sake is Sawa no I from Ome in Okutama (Western Tokyo in the mountains). On a personal note, I love this sake so much we served it at our wedding. Sake can be purchased at the sake department in depachika. Alternatively, Hasegawa Saketen is a wonderful sake shop with a few branches in the city.

Japanese knives are the perfect gift for anyone who loves to cook. Here is my list of knife shops in Tokyo.

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Nishiki Hourin Karintou

Karintou from Nishiki Hourin.   These sweet crackers come in flavors like shichimi tougarashi (seven spice), negi miso (leek and miso), kinpira gobo (burdock root and carrot), and kuro koshou (black pepper). The shop is in Tokyo station’s basement in an area called GranSta. It’s easy to find as there is usually a long line. The karintou are sold in small packs so it is fun to pick up a few different flavors. This is an example of koko shika as the karintou can only be bought here – nowhere else in the world.

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku Cigare

Yoku Moku is a Japanese confectionary shop specializing in Western confectionaries. In particular, I love their cigares which are sold in pastel tins. Think delicately thin butter cookies rolled into a cigare. I often bring this as an omiyage as a hostess gift. Yoku Moku can be found in almost every depachika.

Confectionary West

Confectionary West

Leaf Pie from Confectionary West are another popular Western style cookie that is rich with butter and sugar. The main branch is in Ginza but most depachika also sell these addictive cookies.

Mamegen's Shiokaki

Mamegen’s Shiokaki

For some savory osembei (rice crackers)  look no further than the shiokaki from Mamegen in Azabu Juban. I usually buy these as omiyage for myself. Like Doritos or whatever chips you are addicted to, you can’t stop once you start. Mamegen is known for their flavored nuts and beans in fun flavors like wasabi, mattcha, or uni. Mamegen also can be found in most depachika.

For traditional wagashi (Japanese confectionaries) I always find myself going to Suzukake in Shinjuku Isetan. I am a sucker for its simple packaging and no matter what you get, it is always delicious. In particular, ask for the seasonal  nama wagashi.

For more modern wagashi, check out the mattcha babaloa from Kinozen in Kagurazaka or the confectionaries at Higashiya Ginza.

Yagenbori

Yagenbori

For a special gift, create your own shichimi (seven spice) from Yagenbori in Asakusa (Asakusa 1-28-3). The shop sells its own recommended version, but you can develop your own flavor on the spot. Be sure to pick up a wooden dispenser while there (see photo above).

Lemon's Grapefruit Jelly

Lemon’s Grapefruit Jelly

Finally, for a real treat, select some seasonal fresh fruit from Sembikiya or Lemon or Takano. Melon is perhaps the most famous food gift, notably for its price which can be a few hundred dollars for one. But there are a variety of fruit that changes throughout the season and at a variety of prices. My cousin is a big fan of the fruit jellies which are packaged in the shell of the fruit.

Got a question about my favorite nori shop in Tsukiji Market. It is Maruyama and their information is listed below in the comments section.

Perhaps the most popular food gift at the moment from Tokyo Station for visitors to Japan is the regional flavored Kit Kats. I list the shop in this Metropolis article.

Higashiya Ginza

Higashiya Ginza

Higashiya Ginza

For traditional Japanese confectionaries there is Toraya, which is one of Japan’s most famous shops with locations around Tokyo. A modern confectionary shop that I love is Higashiya in Ginza. I first met the folks from Higashiya at a food event where I was pouring dessert wine from Coco Farm and Winery. The Higashiya team were serving wagashi with shochu. I knew immediately that they were worth exploring and I have always been delighted with the sweets from Higashiya.

The Ginza shop is conveniently located in the heart of the shopping district, so a good excuse to rest your feet here and to rejuvenate over some sweets, either traditional or modern. Check out the mattcha blanc manger or the houjicha pudding or for something more classic, the monaka or yokan.

Higashiya Ginza

Chuo-ku, Ginza 1-7-7, Pola Ginza 2F

03- 3538-3230

 

Tokyo Station Omiyage – Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin 日本橋錦豊琳

Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin

Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin

Karintou are traditional sweet confectionaries made from a flour based cracker that is fermented and then is deep-fried and covered with a sugar coating. The sugar coating can be a white sugar but many times it is a dark sugar coating that is rich in minerals. The cracker can have different ingredients folded into it like mattcha, peanuts, soybeans, or sesame seeds.

In the basement of Tokyo Station’s GranSta area is a very, very popular booth selling karintou called Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin. I have never seen the shop without a long line. The variety of flavors is what makes this shop a lot of fun: ginger, coffee, vegetables, shichimi tougarashi, black pepper, and kinpira gobou. The packaging is perfect for picking up a variety of flavors as they are small packs priced at 330 JPY.

kinpira gobou

kinpira gobou

Nihonbashi Nishiki Hourin

Chiyoda-ku, Marunouchi 1-9-1, Tokyo Station GranSta B1

8:00 – 22:00 (closes at 21:00 on Sunday and holidays)

Ginza Toraya 銀座とらや

Toraya Ginza

Toraya Ginza

Toraya Anmitsu

Toraya Anmitsu

Toraya is a purveyor to the Imperial Family and its rich history can be dated back to the 1600s. The signature item at Toraya is the yokan cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves. This is considered one of the top shops for wagashi, in particular, the yokan. The yokan comes in several flavors including azuki, mattcha, and the kokuto has a rich, deep flavor. Toraya has outlets in most depachika. The main shop is in Akasaka with an eat-in space. The recommended dish is anmitsu

This gorgeous shop in Ginza has a retail shop on the first floor and a café on the second floor. In the summertime you can cool down with a kakigori (shaved ice sweets).

Toraya とらや

Chuo-ku, Ginza 7-8-6

03-3571-3679

9:30 – 20:30, Monday – Saturday

9:30 – 19:30, Sunday and holidays

www.toraya-group.co.jp/english/index.html (English)

Kotobukido in Ningyocho 人形町の寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Kotobukido 寿堂

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi Ningyocho 2-1-4 中央区日本橋人形町2-1-4

Tel. 0120-48-0400 (toll free number in Japan)

9:00 – 21:00, closed Sunday

This 5th generation shop is so small that only a handful of people can enter at one time. The three-story gray building with red trimming displays some of their confectionaries behind glass display windows up front. The unmistakable aroma of cinnamon wafts into the street. Their signature sweet, koganei imo, is shiroan (white bean paste), egg yolk, and sugar dusted with cinnamon and baked. Order one of these and the staff will serve it to you with a cup of tea.