Have you ever tried any Japanese traditional sweets? If you’ve never dared to try the traditional Japanese sweets because it looks and tastes bizarre, then you should definitely try this delicious “Castella (Kasutera)” that everyone will fall in love with!
What is Castella (Kasutera)?
Maybe it is not yet known between the foreign tourists, Castella (pronounced as “Kasutera” in Japanese) is a very popular traditional pastry in Japan. We can say that it is so well-known that there is no single person exists who grew up in Japan that never tasted it in their life. This Castella might look like a simple western style baked sponge cake, but the main difference from the western cake is that it does not use any diary products in its ingredients (i.e., no milk, cream, or butter is used), so it is healthier and tastes lighter than those of the western style’s. This cake is traditionally made with very simple ingredients such as, flour, eggs, sugar (or with honey), and Mizuame. “Mizuame (水あめ)” is Japanese liquid sweetener often used for Japanese traditional pastries. It looks similar to honey but made from rice and malt. The texture of Castella is really delicate, soft, and light yet dense with a moist sponge that has a light caramelized sugar flavor or honey.
History of Castella
Since when the Japanese people are enjoying this delicious Castella? It is said that this Castella style sponge cake was originally introduced by the Spanish or Portuguese people who landed in Japan back in the 16th Century during the period of “Age of Discovery” when Europeans went to the ocean by boat to explore the other side of the globe. So, the Spanish style traditional sweets called “biscocho” or the Portuguese style sponge cake “pao-de-lo” are said to be the origin of the Japanese Castella. What makes the significant differences between these original Spanish or Portuguese pastries and the Japanese Castella is, the ingredients of “Mizuame” used in the Japanese Castellas. This Mizuame functions as an important key to make the Japanese Castella sponge moist, soft, and light yet firm.
So, where can we find the delicious Japanese Castellas? You can usually find famous and delicious Castellas of different brands and companies at the department stores in major cities. There are some small pastry shops known to produce tasty Castellas, too. Or, it can also be found at supermarkets for a reasonable price. During your travel in Japan, and if you would like to taste some authentic Castellas, you should try one of these from the famous brands at the department stores.
Photo Credit: alq666@flickr
Fukusaya is a very well-known traditional Castella pastry company based in Nagasaki City in Nagasaki Prefecture which is located in the third largest island, Kyushu island, in the south of Japan. During Edo period (in the 17th Century), the Japanese government decided to restrict any contact with foreign people or business with Japan, it built a small island in Nagasaki city called “Dejima (出島)” where foreign people are only allowed to land within the Japanese territory and have communications with certain Japanese people. Because of such reasons, there existed many pasty shops around specialized in Castellas, and Fukusaya was one of them founded since 1624.
Photo Credit: Norio.NAKAYAMA@flickr
It now became one of the largest and famous Castella company, but their Castellas are not machine made. It is handmade and whisked by the experienced pastry bakers to have a special light and gentle texture. Though the ingredients of Fukusaya’s Castellas are very simple (eggs, flour, sugar, and Mizuame), they pay particular attention to select eggs that differentiates its taste and use no artificial flavor, preservatives or adding. Once you try it, you will definitely fall in love with its delicate yet rich and full in flavor Fukusaya Castellas. A standard Castella (in yellow wrapping) can be purchased from 1,188 yen and can be found at many department stores in Japan.
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Address: 3-1 Funadaikumachi, Nagasaki-shi, Nagasaki prefecture
Access: 3 minutes walk from Shianbashi Station
Hours: 8:30am ~ 8:00pm
#2. Ginza Bunmeido
Photo Credit: Norio.NAKAYAMA@flickr
Ginza Bunmeido is also a Castella company established in Nagasaki City since 1900 and well recognized between Japanese people. Likewise Fukusaya, their ingredients are simple, yet they are carefully selected to produce a delicious Castella. No artificial flavor, preservatives, or adding are used, of course. At Ginza Bunmeido, there are many different types of Castellas. The most exquisite and expensive one can be a little pricey with 6,480 yen, but it could be worth trying since it is entirely made by the experienced bakers by hand and is sold only twice a week. For this super fine Casetlla, special cage-free eggs as well as limited yet delicious honey are used to. Another characteristics to note is the type of sugar used in its all type of Castellas. It is called “Wasanbon sugar” made from Japan’s original native species sugarcane known to have a very gentle and delicate flavor, and it is produced by an old style fabrication style within Japan and is very often used to make traditional Japanese pastries. Because of such slight differences in its ingredients from Fukusaya, Castellas at Ginza Bunmeido has a light taste and smooth texture.
Photo Credit: akira yamada@flickr
In Tokyo, Ginza Bunmeido has its two own cafes called “BUNMEIDO CAFE” in the Ginza area Tokyo where you can enjoy their famous Castellas as well as some light meals. As Fukusaya above, you can find its Castella shops in major department stores. Medium range Castella is from 2,916 yen. The standard type Castella can be purchased from 1,350 yen.
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Bunmeido Cafe (Ginza, Tokyo)
Address: 5-7-10 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Access: 1 minute walk from Ginza Station Exit A2
Hours: 11:00am ~ 11:00pm
Website: Bunmeido (Japanese)
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Bunmeido Cafe (Higashi Ginza)
Address: 4-13-11 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Access: 2 minute walk from Higashi Ginza Station Exit 3
Hours: 10:00am ~ 7:00pm
Website: Bunmeido (Japanese)
There are much more different Castella specialty shops and brands at the department store or at local area all over Japan, so you should definitely try them and should be able to find your favorite Castella during your trip in Japan.