Happy December, dear friends! Welcome to the most wonderful and magical time of the year!
Christmas is well and truly here in my home – the tree is decked with all of the cutest ornaments, movie nights feature Christmas films, warm orange lights illuminate chilly days and nights, and cups of hot tea are my best friends that keep me sung with some heat.
With everything Christmassy comes the first December/winter post this year: it’s the season of chestnuts! Chestnuts, from what I learnt, tend to be classified as ‘autumn foods’ in Japan – but I reckon it’s great for December as well. Considering that we’ve just entered wintery days and Christmastime in the Lion City, there’s no time like the present to taste these biscuits!
Chestnuts aren’t my cup of tea. To my taste buds, they’re classified under the same category as cinnamon. I documented my last encounter with chestnuts at Starbucks last year when they released their chestnut espresso frappe. As I shared as my final words in that post, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is my love of chestnuts. Well, the day has arrived for a new experience with chestnuts. After diving into the coffee realm’s appreciation of chestnuts previously, we’re visiting baked delicacies in this sequel to the chestnuts story. This time, with a dash of Yuletide cheer.
One of the local shops in my neighborhood is featuring snacks from Japan, and chestnut biscuits is one of them. As most of the info is printed in Japanese, I’m glad that a label with translations of the ingredients is pasted behind the packets that are sold here in the Lion City. From the label, I discovered that these biscuits comprise of chestnut puree. That made me wonder, where do these chestnuts originate from? And how would Japan’s take on chestnut biscuits taste?
The clue to answer my first question was as bright as neon lights: the bear on the package did more than illustrate the star ingredient. I vaguely remember learning about it a long time ago, but I couldn’t pinpoint where it’s from exactly. As the saying goes, “a picture speaks a thousand words”! Some sleuthing through my laptop did the trick, and the universe followed up with my sleuthing on the next day, while I was watching TV in the evening. What a cool coincidence!
That bear appeared when I was watching the first episode of a fun Kiwi travel documentary series called Rhys Darby: Big in Japan on National Geographic here in the Lion City, which features Rhys Darby’s (who is also known for his role in the latest Jumanji films) adventures in Japan. An integral part of his experience in the Land of the Rising Sun included a quirky trait that Japan is famous for.
In Japan, eye-catching mascots are created as ‘ambassadors’ of their ‘origins’ – from promoting brands to representing regions, mascots are loved in Japan. Some mascots make you feel like saying “aww” because of their adorableness, while others receive quizzical looks that reflect an unsaid thought: “what on Earth is that?”
Out of all the cute and at-times strange mascots, there is one creature that not only brings joy to its fans, but has generated over US$1 billion for the Japanese economy. Yes, billion, with a ‘b’. I hereby introduce Kumamon, a bear who proudly represents the Kumamoto Prefecture. It’s safe to say that Kumamon is in the “aww” category. Kumamoto is located in Kyushu, the third-largest island in Japan.
Native to Kumamoto, these chestnuts are used as an ingredient in seasonal desserts. This is why the illustration depicts Kumamon carrying a basket filled with chestnuts – those chestnuts are very likely from Kumamoto. Based on a handful of online Japanese snack shops that I discovered later, the biscuits do indeed feature Kumamoto’s chestnuts.
It’s time to get to the tasty bit of the post – the taste test. I was prepared to feel the texture of crunchy treats simply from the biscuits’ appearance, but the actual experience made me do a double-take… they aren’t completely crunchy! Well, the surface is actually a crumbly biscuit ‘shell’!
A lovely smooth chestnut paste greeted my taste buds, perhaps being identical to jumping out and yelling ‘SURPRISE’ at a surprise birthday party. The crumbly biscuit ‘shell’ does taste like chestnuts, and the chestnut paste filling elevates the biscuit by bringing out a stronger and sweet chestnut experience. Speaking of sweetness, the biscuits are sweet without being overpowering – it’s perfect for anyone who isn’t looking for a sugar rush.
These biscuits are the kind of foods that fit the ‘all in one bite’ classification. That’s because one bite brought me on a complete journey of experiencing two contrasting textures that actually fit as a pair, all whilst celebrating chestnuts. Later, I learnt about another surprise: chocolate chips is listed as an ingredient on the package! My taste buds couldn’t detect chocolate chips initially, as chestnuts’ distinctive touch soar in these biscuits. When I found and bit into a piece with a chunky chocolate chip, I realized that the taste was rather familiar. The combo of chestnut puree and chocolate chips in the puree itself somehow reminded me of Starbucks’ chestnut frappe. It was a nice blast from the not-so-distant past!
All in all, I enjoyed these biscuits. In fact, I purchased another packet to munch on (it’s a great emergency on-the-go holiday snack)! The adventure is a success: my warmness towards chestnuts has increased. But, Rome is still being built in my relationship with chestnuts! Til we meet again, chestnuts.