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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dorayaki - Sweet Japanese Treat

Y'know... for a guy who grew up wanting beyond all else to have a girlfriend but fearing that he was actually kryptonite to them, the fact that I now seem to now have so many female friends astounds me.

It's true that none of them are sleeping with me, in keeping up with a long tradition, but ya takes what you can get.

One of the young ladies I work with is forever treating me with goodies, whether baked herself or bought, and for a guy who is starved for attention from anyone female, her thoughtfulness is indeed like manna from the gods.

As I was leaving work on Friday - I hadn't seen her all day as I was actually doing work and had my nose in my computer (actually, I was testing my e-mail to see why my message were not being allowed delivery), anyhow, I noticed she had just had her hair colored a nice reddish hue and pointed to it and smiled as I walked past wishing her a good weekend.

She had no idea what I was pointing at and instead bade me to wait a moment and dug out a special treat... a dorayaki.

To be honest, I had eaten one once or twice previous... but that was 21 years ago when I was last in Japan, and when this girl was maybe eight. Thinking like that easily rights the ship and reminds me why we are friends.

Anyhow... she is a Japanophile, and sometimes digs out Japan-related stories for me involving cats or other cute things, because that's her.

So... looking at her gift of a dorayaki... the only thing that came to mind was, she gave me a cute pancake... which made sense because I didn't recognize it at first for what it was.

Upon closer examination and many thanks later, I realized she had honored me with one of my favorite treats... while the dorayaki is a confectionery sandwich off two sweet pancakes, it's the filling that's key.

Containing an azuki (red bean paste), all I could think of was how much I loved eating that stuff... to me, this red bean paste was the most delicious sweet treat on the planet, and if I could share its taste with you, I would, at the very least consider it before shoving the whole thing into my rather large mouth.

The azuki red beans beans are slowly cooked with sugar and in Japanese, this is known as anko (jam), even though it doesn't have to be mashed into a jam-like form. Still... when the anko is mashed, it is called koshi. When the softened azuki red bean jam still maintains its bean shape, it is called tsubo.

These pancakes, by the way, are made from a popular Japanese sponge cake known as castella, which is made of sugar, flour eggs, corn starch and probably more sugar. Oh my god... I think I became diabetic just writing that sentence.

If the term 'castella' sounds wholly un-Japanese, you are correct. It is a derivative of the Portuguese phrase Pão de Castela, meaning "bread from Castile". The Japanese aspect comes from the 16th century when Portuguese traders sailed to Japan and began selling such interesting things as guns, tobacco, pumpkins and castella... oh yeah, and they also brought along the teachings of Jesus Christ and Christianity and attempted to convert the locals, particularly in Nagasaki where they were allowed to trade.

But... for those of you who read my blogs and learn their history, it was that whole Christianity thing that eventually pissed of the shogun who ruled Japan, and eventually decided to close up Japan's borders allowing no one in or anyone out... a temper tantrum that lasted about 250 years... though the Dutch were allowed to continue trading for another 50 years since they were only interested in finance, not religion.

Anyhow, the Japanese really liked the guns and tobacco, and were also very fond of the castella, as they found it had a long storage life, and, if it could be kept dry, could be a safe food for Japanese sailors who might be out from port for months.

The only knock against castella back in the 16th century Japan - and actually the world, is that sugar was an expensive commodity, and while still a much consumed food stock of Japanese sailors, castella was considered a luxury item, and was served at many a court gathering.

Now, food and history are always something I enjoy consuming, so I always like to have a second helping of both.

Until 1914, dorayaki was only a single pancake folder upon itself to contain the azuki red bean paste, until a gentleman named Usagiya - a chef in the Ueno area of Tokyo - decided to utilize two flat pancakes as a sandwich with the paste in between. ;

As for where the name dorayaki came from... well, because the word 'dora' is Japanese for 'gong', legend has that dorayaki first came about after a samurai named Benkai forgot his gong (dora) in a farmer's home where he had apparently been hiding out for the night. Later, when the farmer returned, he used the gong as a frying pan to cook up some pancakes.

Oh... and in Japanese, 'yaki' means 'iron griddle for cooking'.

I have no idea where that dumb farmer had lost his iron frying pan that made him so desperate to utilize someone else's gong as a cooking implement.

I also have no idea why Benkai the samurai had a gong with him, or why he was hiding in someone else's house. Where was the home's owner?

Oh well... I'm going to eat the dorayaki now.

Bang a gong, get it on, get it off and into my mouth,
Andrew Joseph


  1. I have no idea why, but it seems to me that most westerners love anything with anko, lol. I have a friend who really love taiyaki, in anko flavor. :D I myself could care less about dorayaki or anko sweets, probably because I'm getting too used to it, or that I'm not a big fan of azuki. Hehe.
    Great post though, I really enjoy this article. :)

    1. Anko was a god-send when I arrived in Japan... new, different, sweet... and damn it, it didn't have some weird taste sensation I had to get used to...