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Japanese sweet treats in Saigon

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Meeting Aya Oguma was totally different from what I had thought it would be.  We had chatted for a bit when I first saw her online Japanese sweets shop @sekaino_oyatsu. She had described herself as a “boring Japanese housewife”, and in my mind, I imagined I would meet a busy, tired looking old auntie. But when she arrived at the coffee shop, what I found instead was like a beam of sunshine with a cheerful smile. Aya was very stylish as if she had just stepped out of a manga with her cute haircut, she wore a soft cotton long shirt and a playful nail polish that complimented her whole look.

 
 

I got to try several different kinds of traditional Japanese sweets made by Aya. The first one was very pretty kashiwa mochi. Kashiwa mochi is a traditional Japanese rice cake (mochi) with red bean paste filling wrapped with oak (kashiwa) leaves. This dish is loved and enjoyed on Children’s Day in Japan by both children and adults as a part of the celebration.

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Another dish she has brought with her were four types of dango: anko (an) dango, mitarashi dango, isobe dango and kusa dango (yomogi dango). The four dango are chewy rice cakes with different tastes which were very interesting for me!

 
Anko (an) dango:  Red bean paste with mochi   Mitarashi dango:  Grilled mochi ball covered in a caramelized sweet soy sauce   Kusa dango (Yomogi dango):  Green spring dango made with Japanese mugwort (yomogi), sugar and red bean paste   Isobe Dango:  Mochi wrapped in seaweed

Anko (an) dango: Red bean paste with mochi

Mitarashi dango: Grilled mochi ball covered in a caramelized sweet soy sauce

Kusa dango (Yomogi dango): Green spring dango made with Japanese mugwort (yomogi), sugar and red bean paste

Isobe Dango: Mochi wrapped in seaweed

 

The last dish I tried that day was imo yokan - a popular Japanese dessert made with sweet potato and sugar. This dish has instantly become my most favorite for its moist, soft texture and an aroma of sweet potato. What I especially love about it is the sweetness was just right to enjoy every small bite, accompanied by a cup of tea. I think all the sweets made by Aya are just wonderful for an afternoon tea with friends.

If you love Japanese food and want to try some traditional, authentic sweets, please check out her Instagram page (link here). She also takes order from there! If you would like to know a bit more about Aya, here’s a little Q&A with her below:

1. Hi Aya, thank you for the delicious treats. How long have you been in Saigon? What brought you here?

My family and I moved here in November of 2017, for my husband’s work. I was just a typical boring housewife taking care of my day-to-day duties and errands.

2. When did you decide to open an online shop to sell Japanese sweets?

I believe it was in March of 2019, to be honest I didn’t have a grand plan...it sort of just happened.

There are many Japanese housewives in Saigon because of their husband’s work. Some of them can’t adapt or enjoy their new lives here because of cultural differences and they are missing Japan deeply. It is not easy to get the Japanese sweets we enjoyed back home here in Saigon. I really love Saigon so I hope through the food I make, it can help other Japanese people feel happier and more at home.

3. What do these sweets mean to you? Can you share with us one of your first memories of it?

Hmm, to be honest, I haven’t thought too deeply about this topic. I’m not quite sure what my very first memory of these types of sweets is, but I do remember that my late Mother loved making them. Sometimes she would make oshiruko, it’s similar to che dau do nong(*), a treat especially for winter. I have many fond memories of those times. As a child during winter months, when I would come home from the cold and snow my mother would often have hot shiruko waiting for me to help me warm up.

4. What are your future plans?

I don’t have any specific future plans at the moment. I never expected this business to start moving as quickly as it did, and suddenly I’m very busy, haha. I am incredibly thankful to my friends and family for always being there to support me and of course to my customers!

(*) Che dau do nong is a popular Vietnamese sweet porridge made from red beans.

www.instagram.com/sekaino_oyatsu


Photography by Huy Hoang | Words by Kim Anh & Scott C.



Kim Anh Doan