Translated by Takuya Erik Watanabe
Oshiruko - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by ニコ
Oshiruko is a sweet-flavored dish made from red bean paste cooked with water, sugar and glutinous rice cakes. It's a traditional food in the winter. In this article we introduce the various kinds of oshiruko and when and where to find them.
Oshiruko is a sweet-flavored dish made from anko (red bean paste) cooked with water and sugar. Mochi (sweet rice cakes) and shiratama(*1) are included in it. It's a staple Japanese dish in the winter, that will warm your body and soul.
There are types made from koshian (smooth red bean paste) and others from tsubuan (red bean paste that contains bean pieces). The name and type of the dish differs depending on whether you are in east or west Japan. Oshiruko is a standard winter favorite in Japan. Let's check out what kinds of oshiruko there are and when to eat them.
*Shiratama: A food made from shiratamako, a type of rice flour. It has a unique chewy texture.
What's the Difference Between Oshiruko and Zenzai?
There is a dish very similar to oshiruko called "zenzai".
Even many Japanese people don't know the difference between oshiruko and zenzai, but it is actually pretty clear.
The name differs depending on the region as well. It is somewhat confusing, but in the Kanto region, koshian and tsubuan are both considered oshiruko, while in the Kansai region, koshian is called oshiruko, and tsubuan is considered zenzai.
Koshian is a smooth anko in which the red beans have been mashed. On the other hand, tsubuan is anko in which the beans remain almost whole.
To be even more precise, the names of the dishes are as follows.
(East Japan) Tsubuan → Gozen Shiruko / Tsubuan → Inaka Shiruko / Tsubuan (without soup) → zenzai
(West Japan) Koshian → Shiruko / Tsubuan → Zenzai / Tsubuan (without soup) → Kameyama
However, these may differ in other areas and restaurants, so if you are a traveler from overseas, you just need to know that there's a delicious dish called "oshiruko" or "zenzai" that you can enjoy in the winter.
Oshiruko and zenzai are both sweet and warm foods that are great in the cold season. If you come across the words "oshiruko" or "zenzai" when traveling Japan in the winter, we recommend you stop by and try it.
Now, where exactly can you find and enjoy oshiruko/zenzai?
Where and What to Buy
Before the cold of winter arrives, you will be able to find oshiruko products being sold at various places around town. For example, the anko section of grocery stores will start to offer freeze-dry oshiruko or other packed items, as well as ready-made products in cups or cans by the register.
Freeze-dry products can be eaten just by pouring some hot water on top, and ready-made products can be eaten instantly.
Another sight you are sure to see when winter is coming, is oshiruko cans in vending machines. If you can't read Japanese, you should check out the design. If the product has a picture of oshiruko on it, or has a reddish-brown color, it's probably oshiruko.
Other than that, oshiruko can be found at rest areas with Japanese sweets shops or inside Japanese gardens. If you go to a shrine during the New Year holiday season, the facility may be handing out oshiruko to visitors. Make sure you try some if you find it!
Perfect as a Souvenir: Kaichu Jiruko
Oshiruko is also perfect as a souvenir, but you can't take home prepared oshiruko, and cans will take up space. That's why we recommend instant shiruko.
Instant products that can be made with just hot water such as freeze-dry and cups have become more and more popular. We especially recommend the "Kaichu Jiruko", the pioneer of instant shiruko. It's a monaka (thinly cooked wafers made from sticky rice) product with dried anko inside. The instant food has been around for a long time.
Oshiruko is a traditional sweet dish that gives you a feel of the Japanese winter. Do give it a try if you come to Japan during the winter!