Passport to Yum – Zojirushi’s Favorite Rice Desserts & Snacks

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We’ve loved all of the rice dishes we’ve tried this year, whether from Asia, South America, the United States or Europe! But we can’t end the year without discussing the myriad desserts and snacks that are made from rice.

Just like those dishes that use rice in its grain or noodle form, many cultures have used this ancient grain in sweet desserts and savory snacks.

The ever-popular rice cracker is a sophisticated snack when made Japanese-style. There are two types of rice crackers most commonly made: senbei and okaki (seen in top photo). Senbei crackers, which originated in China, are made with Japanese short grain rice called uruchi mai and okaki are made with sweet, glutinous rice.  These rice crackers come in various shapes, including square, rectangular, round and as balls, and they can be made by baking, charcoal grilling or deep frying them. We love making this relatively easy okaki-style rice cracker at home, called kakimochi. Try them out and tell us what you think!

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Chakli (photo by Milindb05)

Indian food also has a rich tradition of creating savory rice crackers, one of which is chakli. Chakli is made using rice flour mixed with gram flour, lots of spices such as turmeric, ajwain, cumin, chili and clarified butter, or ghee. The batter is poured through a chakli maker into hot oil, and fried until crispy. Whenever you’re in the mood for a spicy rice snack, try making chakli.

Desserts made from rice are just as popular as snacks, starting with rice pudding! Rice pudding is made across the globe, from Southeast Asian kheer to South American arroz con leche. Arroz con Leche Colombiano is sweet and redolent of cinnamon. Long-grain rice is cooked in a mixture of milk, condensed milk, water, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and butter. The final product is cooled until thick and creamy… just perfect for a holiday occasion.

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Mango sticky rice (photo by Dennis Wong)

Another well-known rice dessert is mango sticky rice, found in many Thai restaurants across the United States and in beach cities across Thailand. Soaked sticky rice is cooked and then simmered in coconut milk, sugar and salt, and topped with peeled Thai mangoes. It’s a refreshing way to end a Thai meal!

Rice desserts can be simple or more colorful and intricate, like the traditional Chinese Ba Bao Fan and the Korean gyeongdan. Ba Bao Fan or “Eight Treasure Rice Pudding” is a traditional dessert served for Chinese New Year in China. This dessert is made by layering eight “treasures” or special ingredients such as sugar-glazed fruit or and sweetened beans onto a base of glutinous rice and sugar. It gets its name from the belief that the number eight is a lucky number for Chinese people because of the similarity of the sound of “ba” (eight) and “fa” which means wealth and prosperity.

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Ba Bao Fan (photo by kawanet)

Gyeongdan is a rice cake made using glutinous rice powder and hot water. The paste is formed into round balls which are coated with multicolored sweet bean powders.

No matter what you’re in the mood for… rice desserts, rice snacks, rice, rice noodles, rice paper, rice dumplings… this amazing food can satisfy all your cravings! We hope you make a lovely dish for your New Year celebrations and that you share them with us!

Essentials of Japanese Cooking: Wagashi

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Throughout the year, we’ve focused on the essentials of Japanese cooking, from basic pantry items to the principles of washoku, Japan’s culinary tradition. From the basic ingredients of sa shi su se so (sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce and miso) to the more complex creation of dashi and umami tastes, we’ve explored how to prepare appetizers, soups, pickles and main dishes. This month, our post focuses on wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweets.

Wagashi, which literally means “Japanese sweet snack”, are bite-sized confections. They are traditionally made with simple, plant-based ingredients. The simplicity of the ingredients, however, is deceptive, as wagashi are created based on washoku principles of the Five Tastes and the Five Senses and take into account the seasonality of the natural world.

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Dorayaki, or sweet pancakes filled with red bean paste

Wagashi is said to have originated in Japan during the time Japanese emissaries returned to the country from visiting China in the 8th century.  The first truly Japanese form of wagashi was a mochi and azuki bean dumpling sweetened with the juice of various vines. As this delicacy became more popular and spread to cities influenced by the aristocracy along the west coast of Japan, such as Matsue and Kanazawa, wagashi creation and design flourished. In the 12th century, wagashi became part of formal tea ceremonies and was paired with bitter matcha tea. When sugar was introduced to Japan in the 16th century, wagashi became easier and less expensive to produce, making it available to the general population.

The variety of wagashi is vast, and it is classified using a few criteria: formal vs. every day, production method, moisture content and shape.

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Girl’s day wagashi

Formal wagashi are served at tea ceremonies or special events and are sculpted to represent a seasonal motif for the particular event, such as cherry blossoms in the spring to celebrate Girl’s Day. Every day wagashi are found at street vendors and shops and come in the form of dumplings or cakes or specialized shapes, with various fillings and toppings, usually made in the morning to be eaten that day.

Some of the formal wagashi are crafted based on the seasons. Their base flavors include the five tastes–sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy–with a particular taste emphasized according to what is seasonally available. For example, in the spring, when people gravitate towards sour flavors, wagashi are flavored with oranges. Each piece is also crafted to appeal to the five senses, from the seasonal motifs of each shape, to the fragrance of the ingredients, to the taste, to the texture to the sounds of nature that are evoked when eating a piece.

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Mizuyoukan, or soft sweet bean jelly

Making wagashi is considered a craft, and wagashi makers can be awarded the title of “Contemporary Master Craftsman”. Wagashi craftsmen take pride in creating confections that balance seasonal flavors and motifs, from traditional cherry blossoms to modern Santa Clauses, appealing to the tastes of all generations. Going to a wagashi shop will make you anticipate the season or special event or festival to come!

Modern wagashi are made with eggs, milk and chocolate, and also come in beautiful shapes and colors.

One type of wagashi commonly found in the United States is called daifuku, which can be made at home. Pair it with Matcha Tea and you have your own homemade snack break!

We’d love to hear about your wagashi experiences, so be sure to leave us a photo and a note in the comments below!