The Fine Art of Japanese Sweets at Minamoto Kitchoan

April 28, 2016 11:32 am Last Updated: April 28, 2016 11:32 am

Like a pocket of perfectly molded clay, the ball of glutinous rice is a delight for the eyes with its shades of delicate pink mingling with a soft hue of white. Bite into it, and a filling of peach paste—floral, lightly sweet, and reminiscent of Japanese white peaches—reveals itself in its bubbly pink glory.

With many locations around the world, Minamoto Kitchoan is a master at making wagashi, or traditional Japanese sweets. Mochi, or glutinous rice cakes with sweet fillings, are among the first confections that the Japanese ate, dating back to the seventh century. But it wasn’t until the 16th century that mochi became a flourishing art form, with different varieties for celebrating different seasons and festivals.

Minamoto Kitchoan serves treats for any time of day. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Minamoto Kitchoan serves treats for any time of day. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

To ring in spring and the beautiful cherry blossoms that bloom during the season, Minamoto Kitchoan makes a cherry-flavored mochi, as well as mochi filled with red bean paste, wrapped inside cherry leaves and topped with preserved cherry blossom flowers—the essence of ephemeral petals captured in one bite.

During other times of the year, you can enjoy green mochi—earthy “matcha” (green tea powder) on the outside, with a smooth red bean paste inside; or peach-flavored mochi, with a floral fragrance that lingers on your palate.

Peach- and matcha-flavored mochi. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)
Peach- and matcha-flavored mochi. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

As many Japanese sweets were made popular when they were served at traditional tea ceremonies, these bites are best paired with a steaming cup of tea.

At the time when Minamoto Kitchoan opened in 1977 in Japan, few other confectioneries were making traditional sweets with seasonal fruits, explained Yasuhiko Komoto, the general manager at Minamoto Kitchoan’s New York City location.

Minamoto Kitchoan has also become known for its fruit jellies, with some special varieties only available according to season. In spring, Japanese cherries are suspended in clear, cherry-flavored jelly. In the fall, it’s juicy pears.

Seasonal cherry jellies. (Courtesy of Minamoto Kitchoan)
Seasonal cherry jellies. (Courtesy of Minamoto Kitchoan)

The peach jelly, which comes shaped in a dome and wrapped in a small straw basket, is the perfect harbinger of summer, its sweetness like peach nectar, and its delightful smooth texture like part jelly and part applesauce.

Minamoto Kitchoan is equally adept at making traditional sweets and inventing modern creations.

The traditional dorayaki, or red-bean pancakes, are light and spongy, with a red bean filling that gives off a nice, subtle hint of burnt sugar.

Dorayaki, or red-bean pancakes. (Courtesy of Minamoto Kitchoan)
Dorayaki, or red-bean pancakes. (Courtesy of Minamoto Kitchoan)

For New Yorkers fueled on coffee, Minamoto Kitchoan created wafer cookies meant to pair well with it. In a riff on traditional Japanese senbei (rice crackers) two round cookies encase buttery cream of different flavors. The wafers disintegrate slowly in your mouth, allowing you to savor their light sweetness. The matcha ones are especially enjoyable, tasting like a matcha latte.

Matcha-flavored senbei (rice cracker) cookies. (Courtesy of Minamoto Kitchoan)
Matcha-flavored senbei (rice cracker) cookies. (Courtesy of Minamoto Kitchoan)

Minamoto Kitchoan
509 Madison Ave. (between 52nd & 53rd streets)
212-489-3747
kitchoan.com

Hours:
Sunday–Thursday 10 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.