A-Z of Japan: A is for…

Today I’m starting a new series called “A-Z of Japan”, where I will choose one Japan-related topic to represent each letter of the alphabet every week. If possible, I’m going to choose less obvious topics. For example, today I will be looking at A. I could write about anime (アニメ), Akiba (アキバ), AKB48, Asakusa (浅草), Asahi beer (アサヒビール) or even Aomori (青森県). However, I’ve decided that A is for… Azuki beans!

What are azuki beans and why are they so important? Well, azuki beans can be made into red bean paste, and red bean paste (anko) is absolutely delicious! For me, anko is one of the classic tastes of Japan – along with matcha (抹茶) and kinako(黄粉).

Azuki beans are so versatile! I’ve eaten them in so many different forms. The main names you will hear are:

  • “anko” (餡子) – red bean paste with added sugar
  • “ogura” (小倉) – just another name for “red bean paste”, I think
  • “tsubu-an” (粒餡) – red bean paste where the beans have just been mashed after boiling (it’s a bit lumpy)
  • “koshi-an” (漉し餡) – a smooth kind of red bean paste, with no skins and no added sugar

My absolute favourite way to eat azuki beans is “ogura toast” (小倉トースト):

Nagoya-style breakfast: ogura toast

Ogura toast is a popular breakfast in the Nagoya area, and the best place to eat it is Komeda (コメダ). You can also make it yourself, of course. In Japan you can actually buy squeezy tubes full of red bean paste (oh how I miss them!) which you can just squeeze onto your toast. At some point in the future I think I will try to make my own red bean paste. I haven’t decided which the best method is yet though. I could either start from scratch and use dry beans:

Or the Japanese yude azuki (ゆであずき) I bought from the Japan Centre:

Or try my luck with azuki beans from Tesco:

Whenever I get around to it, this recipe looks like a good one to follow!

In Japan, azuki beans are used in all sorts of things – some stranger than others! One fairly normal example is ice cream:

Azuki ice cream

And another very common example is “dorayaki” (どら焼き):

Matcha azuki dorayaki

These red bean paste filled pancakes are famous for their connection with Doraemon (ドラえもん) – Doraemon, a cartoon cat, loves dorayaki. You can also get buns filled with red bean paste called “anpan” (あんパン), and these are also connected to a cartoon character. There is a character called Anpanman (アンパンマン) whose head is made of anpan!

Anko is often used in desserts, like this mouth-watering cake:

Ogura with Matcha Cake

Or this traditional ice cream set:

Matcha ice cream with shirotama, azuki and mikan (and cornflakes!)

A popular choice in the winter is “oshiruko” (お汁粉), which is a kind of soup made from red beans:

Oshiruko with mochi (red bean soup with mochi)

The examples above are all fairly normal, but sometimes azuki crops up in places you wouldn’t really expect, like as a Pepsi flavour:

Azuki Pepsi

Or, perhaps less surprising, as a Kit Kat flavour:

Azuki Kit Kats (Hokkaido)

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Oshiruko (red bean soup) Kit Kat

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Azuki Sando Kit Kat (red bean sandwich flavour) Limited Edition (Nagoya)

I can’t believe anyone could be in Japan and not encounter azuki beans, but if you haven’t tried them yet please do! I have heard some people say they don’t like them but, as I said, for me they are one of the most delicious tastes of Japan. Just writing this post is making me salivate!

Have you come across any interesting food or recipes using anko? I’d love to hear about it! If you can share a good recipe and I can get the ingredients in the UK, I might even try it…

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This post is an entry for this week’s Show Me Japan. Don’t forget to check out the other fabulous entries! 😀

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Show Me Japan

5 thoughts on “A-Z of Japan: A is for…

  1. I came across these by accident once, inside a bun. I amazed myself by not spitting it out (I’m not a bean fan normally) and finished off the bun.

    Like

  2. I must be the only foreigner in Japan who absolutely can’t stand them. But then again I can’t stand chou cream and matcha either, so I’m officially weird. Or it’s a genetic defect 🙂

    Love the A-Z series idea though!!!

    Like

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