Do you remember our recent article that showcased Japanese confectioner Namikoshiken’s adorable menagerie of bite-sized manjū (sweet steamed buns)? Last week, out of sheer luck and coincidence, I received a box of the Suizokukan (aquarium) variety from a family friend who went on a trip to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture, where the 87-year-old company is based. So of course, this calls for a taste test!
Read on to find out more about the wagashi treats and to view close-up photos of each lovable suizokukan resident. Was this writer able to harden her heart and mercilessly sink her teeth into these little guys? Anything for RocketNews24!
After opening the package, I was greeted by twelve smiles (okay, the octopus and fried shrimp weren’t exactly smiling) as well as a product insert that explained which animal contained which filling.
▼ The penguin, blowfish, polar bear, squid, octopus, and crab are filled with koshi-an (strained adzuki bean paste, made with beans from Hokkaidō), while the sea-lion, sea otter, and turtle are filled with tsubu-an (whole adzuki bean paste). The whale and whale shark get the ichigo-an treatment, which is made by mixing strawberries with mild-flavored shiro-an (white bean paste). Lastly, the deep-fried shrimp (a Nagoya classic), is filled with chocolate ganache!
Next, onto the steamed buns themselves. After opening each individually wrapped critter, I was amazed by the fact that they looked exactly like the buns in the promotional images on Namikoshiken’s online shopping page. None of them resembled melting zombies with lopsided features despite the steaming process, and even though they were shipped from Japan there was nary a squashed eye to be seen.
▼ The octopus.
▼ The spouting whale.
▼ The pouty pufferfish.
▼ The sea lion.
▼ The crab (its pincers look dangerously close to its eyes!).
▼ The squid, with a Japanese ghost-like white triangle.
▼ The turtle.
▼ The penguin.
▼ The spotty whale shark.
▼ The expressive polar bear (doesn’t his mouth remind you of a tilde?).
▼ The sea otter holding a clam.
▼ And finally the deep-fried shrimp, the only non-animal (well, it used to be an animal).
Now, on to the tasting! Since this product contains no preservatives and the expiration date on the box was fast approaching, I promptly stuck it in the refrigerator until I was ready to try them (where they ultimately kept for over a week, even though the insert recommended finishing the box within a day of opening). Unfortunately, the starches firmed up and the texture of the dough layer became like cold potatoes, but a few seconds in the microwave quickly restored the treats to their former tender goodness! If you get your hands on these (or perhaps any manjū) you may want to warm them up a bit before eating for the best texture and fragrance.
Each mini-manjū is just over one inch in diameter, so normally it would be difficult not to quickly pop a few into your mouth. Thankfully, its cuteness isn’t just for looks; it unwittingly functions as a brake by making you take each bite slowly.
▼ But in the end, this charming puffer’s poison was no match for my chompers!
And as explained on the website, you can tell that the balance between dough and filling was thoughtfully considered by an artisan. Unlike manjū that leave you wondering what flavor you just ate, the outside layer of this confection is relatively thin, allowing for plenty of filling despite its size.
▼ “Ow, my cheek…”
Though I found that the tsubu-an had a slightly stronger and more satisfying adzuki flavor than the koshi-an, both had a gratifying sweetness without being overwhelming, making this tiny treat a perfect accompaniment to a cup of green tea. The strawberry filling tasted of both the actual fruit and an extract or flavoring, but the bits of seed emphasized the fact that it contains real berries. The chocolate turned out to be my favorite, interestingly enough, probably because there was only one of them in the entire set. The crumbly topping was like a wagashi version of streusel and the ganache packed the greatest punch in terms of flavor!
So, if you can’t get enough of these cute critters and you live in Japan or happen to visit Nagoya, why not order a box from their Rakuten Ichiba page for 1,577 yen (US $13.30) or pick it up in person? The aquarium’s waiting for you!
Note: Ingredients include wheat, soy, dairy, Japanese yam, and sesame seeds.