Saturday, August 3, 2013

Quest for Kunpen, Part 2: Department Store Kunpen

This is the second part of a three-part series. Please read the first part of the series - Why? to get an idea of what Kunpen is and why I am doing this set of reviews.

I started my kunpen reviews by just buying whatever kunpen I could find at grocery stores, department stores, shops in tourist areas, and wherever else I came across them. Most of these easily-found kunpen turned out to be unexceptional… except for two: Miyagi and Sakumoto Mochiten.

御菓子御殿 Okashi Goten

Okashi-goten Kunpen

This Okinawan landmark is known for its purple potato tarts, but it also offers two kinds of kunpen - large and small. The large konpen is more about the gawa or bun, which is soft but flavorful, not too sweet, with a whole-grain flavor. The filling is unexceptional.

The smaller Okashi Goten konpen, which has a different package, has the same soft gawa, but the filling has more sesame flavor and is gentle and not too sweet.

サニー食品 Sunny Shokuhin

Quite hard and dry bun, with harder filling, too. The filling is a little crunchy and much sweeter than the Okashi Goten. However, other than sweet, there is not much flavor or character here. So uninspiring that I forgot to take a photo.

株式会社誠もち店 Makoto Mochiten - Beni-Imo Kunpen

Makoto Mochiten Beni-imo Kunpen
The "Beni-imo Kunpen" has a very small amount of filling for the size of the bun. No nutty smell at all, which makes sense because it does not contain sesame or peanuts. It contains purple sweet potato, and this brings up the question of whether it is kunpen or not. The whole reason I am trying all these kunpen is to find something nutty and delicious. This is not kunpen. That having been said, the bun is chewy and sweet, quite nice. And the beni-imo filling is not bad. But again, it ain't kunpen, people! Having purple potato kunpen is like having a plate of steaming non-dairy, sugarless, eggless liver and onions ice cream. It might taste good, but it ain't ice cream. It's liver with onions, dammit! I think I have made my point and will move on now.

株式会社誠もち店 Makoto Mochiten - Kokuto Kunpen

Makoto Mochiten Kokuto Kunpen
The "Kokuto Kunpen" contains sesame but no peanuts. The smell is more malty than nutty. The bun is nice, enhanced by the complex flavor of "kokutou" or Okinawan raw sugar. However, the filling is small and forgettable.

吉兆 Kichimomo

Kichimomo Kunpen
Good peanut smell, but both filling and bun have the same texture and moistness, or rather lack thereof. This one somehow seems not quite cooked. It is too blonde and dull, with no edge - a pasty milksop of a kunpen. Go home to your mamma, wimpy kunpen. You are too weak for the mean streets of my teeth.

大福製菓 Daifuku Seika

Daifuku Seika Kunpen
Only five ingredients, with no unpronounceable chemical ones and no sesame at all. Decidedly peanut-rich smell, and the shape and placement of the filling suggests that it is hand-made or at least made with minimal automation. The bun is soft and cookie-like, but not pasty. Flavor is slightly sweet, making for a wholesome, filling, and inexpensive kunpen - very simple and honest.

南風堂株式会社 Nanpudo

Nanpudo Kunpen
Highest filling-to-bun ratio so far. Nutty fragrance that shows good balance between peanuts and sesame. Bun is soft and flaky, not cookie-light but crumbly and slightly chewy. Comforting and mild, it would make a suitable post-heartbreak snack.

マルキヨ製菓 Marukiyo Seika

Marukiyo Kunpen
No strong fragrance. Shiro-an, peanut butter, sesame. Bun is medium hardness with little chewiness. Filling is like bland white bean paste. The sesame flavor is stronger than the peanut flavor, but neither stand out. Average.

大城製菓 Oshiro Seika

Oshiro Kunpen
Big thick filling with slightly sweet, indifferent bun. Not much to like. Very little moisture. Very little character.

株式会社くしけんSS Gushiken SS

Gushiken Kunpen
Impressive appearance. Whole white and black sesame in the filling. Very strong sesame flavor, with good peanut flavor, too. The bun is pretty average, but on the whole, comfortingly mild.

佐和田 Sawada

Sawada Kunpen
The package seems to be a generic wrapper used by several kunpen makers. The flavor is similar, too. This is a good example of what some Okinawans told me they don't like about kunpen - a base of slightly dry anko bean paste mixed with sesame peanut butter in an unexceptional, flavorless bun. That being said, the filling is dry but tasty, with visible bits of peanut in it, so be sure to have a good beverage. Okay with tea or milk.

みやぎ菓子店 Miyagi Kashiten

Miyagi Kunpen from Ishigaki Island
I found this one mixed in with the cheap sweet breads at the Sun-A Gushikawa Main City department store, but it is anything but just another kunpen. Strong peanut fragrance. Thin bun with lots of filling. The bun is very subtle, harder than others but not cookie-like, with a hearty wheat flavor. The filling is crunchy, rich in peanut yumminess. This is good kunpen, with a nice balance of peanut and sesame. The filling has that crystalline sesame sandiness you find in some middle-eastern sweets, and it is just sweet enough. This is very good kunpen.

佐久本もち店 Sakumoto Mochiten Konpen

Sakumoto Kunpen
The other department store surprise, this kunpen has a nice, nutty fragrance and a moist bun which is like a soft cookie. The filling is like a thin ribbon, but with nice sesame and peanut chunks in it. I was very surprised by this unassuming package and the really yummy bun. The filling was a nice accent to this tasty cookie. Surprisingly good kunpen, and very similar to the Arakaki Kami kunpen. After the Sakumoto kunpen, you won't want to go back to the white characterless bean-paste type.

Go on to the third part of the series - Shuri Kunpen.

This is the second of four installments:

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