My dad worked for a Japanese company for several decades. His bosses would bring traditional snacks for their teams whenever they visited Japan. My father would then take some to share with my mum and me. I have fond memories of him fishing out these treats from his pockets when he got home.
Once he pulled out a bundle of paper towels wrapped around colourful odd-shaped balls. Some had seaweed or sesame seeds on the outside, some were bright orange or in a dull green coat. Some were sweet and others salty like soy sauce. Hidden within each crunchy exterior was a single peanut. Eating them was like a mini adventure as I could not be sure what each morsel would taste like!
I called these sweet and savoury coated nuts “Japanese nuts”. It was only when I visited Japan in 2015 that I found out that these are mamegashi 豆菓子.
I had found myself on a charming street near the Kyoto Imperial Palace while looking for the Ippodo Tea flagship. Most of the shops on Ebisugawa-dori 夷川通 sold traditional Japanese furniture, antiques, and ceramics. I was a little hungry when I noticed five coloured balls on the facade of a old Japanese shophouse.
It felt like I had stepped back in time as I passed the sliding doors. Under the warm shoji lights were transparent cases displaying assorted traditional Japanese confectionary. One section had only sugar-coated beans in pink, white, green, yellow, and brown. I later discovered this is their signature product, goshiki-mame.
The shop assistants couldn’t tell me much about what they were selling as we didn’t speak a common language. But I guessed that the shop must be doing something right going by the awards covering one wall. So I bought a few bags of multicoloured nuts, rice crackers, and wasabi peas.
I later found out that Mamemasa 豆政 has been in business since 1876. And while its products can be found in some train stations around Kyoto, I had stumbled upon the original Mamemasa shop. Which makes this accidental discovery somewhat special.
By the way, the nuts were delicious. I was a little sorry when we finished them.