Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Desserts from Japan - 2008 Mitsuwa MEIKA Sweets Fair!

(Apologies in advance for the tardiness of this post. For some reason, I never got around to writing about this fun little annual event. I'm posting it for those interested in attending next year's festival. :)

While Southern California doesn't have even a fraction of the festivals that are celebrated annually across Japan, Mitsuwa Marketplace has been doing a decent job of hosting various cultural events in recent years, taking the time to invite restaurants and chefs from Japan to stop by. In 2008 alone, Mitsuwa hosted some noteworthy events like the Legendary Ramen Fair, the Umaimono Gourmet Fair, and the Hokkaido Fair. Their newest festival, running from October 31, 2008 - November 3, 2008, is the Meika Sweets Fair, an annual event celebrating Sweets and Desserts from various Prefectures throughout Japan.

This was my first year attending the Meika Sweets Fair, and it also coincided with my first meeting with the amazing food personality of Noah from the Man Bites World project. (^_^) We were meeting all day for their Japan Day, and arrived here shortly after some delicious, handmade Soba Noodles at Ichimian.

One thing that took me slightly aback was just how small this Meika Sweets Fair was: Normally the past Mitsuwa Food Festivals have encompassed the entire "main hall" section of the market, as well as taken over parts of their large food court area. The Meika Sweets Fair consisted of one concentrated section in the back of their main hall area. But approaching the tables, one could see that they featured about ~30 different types of specialty Desserts from all over Japan, which were normally not available in the U.S. They just didn't have the individual vendors / representatives with their own booths - only the beautifully packaged products - hence the compacted space for this Food Fair.

While it was only the second day of the Sweets Fair, Mitsuwa was already sold out of about ~40% of the desserts! We picked up a variety of sweets that looked interesting and proceeded to sit down and try them on the spot. :)

We started with Raguno- Sasaki's Kininaru Ringo (Apple Pie Pastry Dessert) from Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

Each Kininaru Ringo dessert is handmade to ensure its quality. When we opened up the dessert and packaging, we were all surprised and curious about what would be inside the nicely baked pastry exterior.

Cutting into it revealed *an entire Apple* (peeled and cored, but otherwise intact), baked with a thick Apple Paste. It was a striking presentation (and nice to know you're getting an entire Apple with each order of this dessert :). The exterior pastry was still relatively flakey, and overall it tasted like an intense Baked Apple / Apple Pie, but with the texture essentially a softened, meaty Apple with each bite. It was slightly strange but a favorite with most of the Japan Day participants.

Next up was Tokyo Banana's Ginza no Ichigo Ke-ki (Ginza Strawberry Cake) from Tokyo, Japan.

This was a cutely packaged box of individually packaged desserts featuring a very fragrant Strawberry Cream layered with a Custard Cream, surrounded by this company's signature Sponge Cake exterior. The Sponge Cake was light and fluffy, and the Strawberry Cream and Custard mixture was enjoyable, but nothing mind-blowing.

Continuing the outpouring of desserts :), we next tried Niikuraya's Kurumi Mochi (Walnut Rice Cake) from Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan. The Kurumi Mochi was still very soft and fresh from its airplane ride from Japan. This was probably one of the most intense Walnut flavors in a dessert that I've had in quite some time, with that distinctive nutty, earthy flavor that only Walnut can impart.

The next dessert had some of us wondering if it was sponsored by The Material Girl herself, or a reference to a holy dessert of some sort :) - Ichiroku Honpo's Madonna Dango (3 Flavored Sweet Dumplings) from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, Japan.

Like the Ginza Strawberry Cake, one box contained a large number of individually packaged servings of the sweet. For Ichiroku Honpo, their Madonna Dango consisted of one skewer with 3 individual Dango: Strawberry, Milk and Cafe Au Lait.

While it was pretty to look at, the taste was a bit of a letdown: The little Sweet Dumplings were simply too gummy and tasted overly processed. The Strawberry Dango tasted artificial, while the Milk Dango tasted slightly better, tasting like a Condensed Milk dessert (but not as sweet), while the Cafe Au Lait lacked the intensity of a distilled Coffee flavored dessert.

But perhaps the most stunning dessert from the Meika Sweets Fair would have to be Konigs Krone (Ke-nihisu Kuro-ne)'s Altena Series Premium Desserts - Matcha Cake from Kobe, Japan. At $18.90, this was one of the more expensive desserts at the Fair, and one look at the packaging and it was easy to see why.

Besides being beautifully gift-wrapped in high-quality paper, opening up the packaging revealed that *each* order of this dessert comes with a custom Earthenware Container (with Lid)! We were also greeted with a nice paper wrapping that was inscribed with beautiful calligraphy lettering.

Finally, opening up the Earthenware Pot revealed a fragrant, crumbly Matcha (Premium Green Tea) Cake. The Matcha Cake was spring-like and lightly infused with the Matcha, but was a bit drier than I would've liked (nothing bad, but not great). Perhaps this is one of those desserts that doesn't stand up as well as the days go by before eating. I think if we had sampled this on the same day that it was baked, the experience would've been much better. As it stood now, it was a slight disappointment, but the cute Earthenware Container helped offset any disappointment. :)

The last dessert tried was the Gomasuri Dango (Black Sesame Sweet Dumplings) from Iwate Prefecture, Japan. Each box of the Gomasuri Dango comes with 12 individual Dango.

I love Black Sesame desserts, so I was really looking forward to the Gomasuri Dango. The Rice Flour exterior was a little gummy and chewy, but still soft and pliable, and it broke relatively easily to reveal the Black Sesame liquid center. The Black Sesame was extremely nutty, with a good level of sweetness (not overpowering), and just a touch of bitterness.

There were a few other desserts that I was sad to have missed out on (they were sold out), from Minato Seika's beautiful-looking Sasa Dango (Sweet Dumplings wrapped in fresh Bamboo Leaf) from Niigata, Japan, to the poetically named Hagi no Tsuki (Fresh Custard Cream Castella) from Sendai, Japan. But the one I was most looking forward to was Mukashin's Osaka Mitarashi Dango (Special Dumpling with a Liquid Center of Shoyu and Sugar) from Osaka, Japan. Prices ranged from $5.90 - $26.90 (for a whole cake).

The Annual Mitsuwa MEIKA Sweets Fair turned out to be a fun way to spend an hour or so, picking out some interesting-looking and sounding desserts from across Japan, and then sitting down to try them all. :) While I didn't run into any complete runaway favorites, there were some enjoyable offerings, and Mitsuwa Marketplace sold out of many of the desserts by the second day of the fair, which limited our choices. I hope that for next year's event, Mitsuwa will invite some of the dessert makers from Japan to set-up a booth and create some freshly made desserts on the spot - for maximum freshness - and perhaps to get a better understanding of how they make their desserts and the philosophy behind them. (And to add a more "Festival" atmosphere to this Food Fair (^_~).)

2008 Mitsuwa MEIKA Sweets Fair
From October 31, 2008 - November 3, 2008 (check their website for next year's dates)

Mitsuwa Marketplace (Torrance)
21515 Western Avenue, Torrance, CA 90501
(310) 782-0335

Mitsuwa Marketplace (Costa Mesa)
665 Paularino Avenue, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 557-6699


glutster said...


Isn't eating sweets for a post's sake great? ha, ha.

I always marveled at asian sweets packaging, so pretty!

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Glutster,

Hehehe, yah it's pretty fun (although I'm usually not a big dessert person :).

Yes, Japanese Packaging for not only Sweets, but Cookies and other Snacks border on the insane for how detailed they are. :)

ila said...

nOoooooOoo you didn't get to try the Momiji Manjuu :[
sorry, the inner Hiroshima-nese in me had to blurt that out. you know how Kansai people are ;P

Exile Kiss said...

Hi ila,

I know, I know! (;_;) I was looking forward to it, but they were sold out by Day 2! I'll definitely get it at this year's festival! :)

Blog Widget by LinkWithin