*Update July 2018 with new recommendations*
So lately I’ve got a new personal project going on – I decided to try making wagashi myself!
Wagashi (和菓子 wa-gashi) are traditional Japanese confections that are often served with tea, especially the types made of mochi, anko (azuki bean paste), and fruits. Wagashi are typically made from plant ingredients.
In 2015, I was supposed to attend a Wagashi making session in Kyoto, but unfortunately my flight was delayed by a day so I had to miss out on it.
It’s been some time since I last got to go to Japan and since I can’t be there, the next best thing would be to create a pseudo Japanese experience myself in the kitchen!
So a legit concern about wagashi making is that a lot of these items uses ingredients unique to Japanese cooking. Thankfully, Singapore is a place where we can find almost everything (except that you just got to pay more).
From what I observed, most wagashi recipes uses the same few ingredients in different combinations. So you just need the few staples to create many different sorts of wagashi!
Where to buy Japanese ingredients?
Top: Kinako 280g , Shiratamako 230g, Okinawa Sugar 130g, Katakuriko 280g
Bottom: Tsubuan 200g, Koshian 200g
I love Daiso. It has almost everything I need for wagashi making, even cute serve ware!
Even though Daiso in Singapore is marked up to $2 from $1.35 in Japan (¥108), it is still the cheapest place to find Japanese ingredients. They have quite a good selection of items which changes from time to time! Here are some items I found at Kallang Wave Mall’s Daiso.
Considering how the same items cost much more elsewhere, Daiso products are a steal especially since all these items originates from Japan! Especially if you’re still in the experimental stage and want to practice with the techniques, these ingredients are cheap enough to fail with. In the past they used to stock canned cooked red beans too, but I haven’t been seeing it around lately.
2. Tanesei Trading (JMart/ FairPrice finest)
All the items from my Daiso haul can be found at JMart/ FairPrice finest too, supplied by Tanesei Trading, but costs much more! For example, $7.70 for 400g of Tsubuan/ Koshian, $3.30 for 240g of Katakuriko, $2.70 for 80g of roasted black sesame.
I usually only buy items which cannot be found at Daiso from here. Examples would be canned Hokkaido Yude Azuki beans 190g ($2.90) and Uji Matcha Powder 40g ($6.30). The matcha powder is good quality enough for baking and wagashi making I feel, but not good enough for drinking (I get my drinking matcha powder from Kyoto). At $6.30 it is a very reasonable price and I would recommend getting this instead of matcha powder from baking stores even though those may be $3.90. The taste of low quality matcha is very obvious. These are sometimes actually not made from Japanese green tea but are in fact from perhaps China or some other source, therefore a distinctly different taste.
3. Don Don Donki
Yup, this is everybody’s new favourite Japanese supermarket in Singapore. With 2 locations now – Orchard Central and 100am, it is convenient for those who frequent the town area. You can find the basic common ingredients like Kinako, Shiratamako, Joshinko, Katakuriko, Okinawa Sugar, canned red beans, Itoen/ Iyemon Matcha Powder etc. Prices here are generally lower than other Japanese supermarkets especially if you’re getting their house brand.
4. Isetan Supermarket
Isetan Supermarket generally has a good selection of Japan imported ingredients and it is arguably the best Japanese supermarket for quality Japanese ingredients. They carry ingredients of all price ranges from the super expensive wagyu beef and fruits, to basic canned food or bottled condiments like oil. For wagashi ingredients, you can find good quality Matcha (from $6.40), Kinako 100g ($4.10), Shiratamako 150g ($7.20), Joshinko 240g ($3.90), Katakuriko, Warabimochi-ko 80g ($4.95), canned azuki (from $2.90/ 190g) etc from their regular shelves. Basically whatever Donki, NTUC or Daiso have, they have it too (just that you won’t expect to have the cheapest possible prices here, though some of them do match up like the Hokkaido Yude Azuki 190g).
However what makes this place more interesting is that they have a very comprehensive section carrying Tomiz products from Japan. You can find the more uncommon ingredients here like pickled sakura flowers 60g ($5.80), houjicha powder 30g ($6.90), purple sweet potato flakes 150g ($11.90), kanten powder ($4.90), non-melting matcha powder 40g ($3.50) (I’m thinking this could be good for matcha warabi mochi) and most importantly, powdered shiroan 150g ($9.90) – which means you can get white bean paste for wagashi making by adding water and sugar to the powder! I simply could not find white bean paste off the shelves anywhere else in Singapore. Powdered version also means you can make any amount you want without wastage they also have powdered red bean ($7.90).
The prices of Tomiz products are also every reasonable, comparable to the price our local baking shops for our local baking ingredients. How cool is that! You can also find the relevant baking tools and packaging you may need for your wagashi making or baking from the Tomiz product range.
The above are examples of where you can get real Japanese ingredients. If you wish, you can also choose to use ingredients that are not exactly from Japanese origins, but similar. The cost will be much lower and can be easily found in our local supermarkets! HOWEVER, the taste is going to be very very different. This should always be the last resort.
Shiratamako is essentially glutinous rice flour (even though the process may be different), so the common glutinous rice flour from Thailand may work too.
- Erawan Elephant Glutinous Rice Flour 600g- $1.50 (FairPrice)
Katakuriko is potato starch from Japan. I actually use it as a substitute for Warbimochiko to make Warabimochi. Technically warabimochi is made from Bracken starch, but that is incredibly expensive. Common versions are made with all sorts of other starch and Katakuriko is one option. Other options are tapioca starch and corn starch. I also use Katakuriko to dust my Ichigo Daifuku. I also heard it’s the secret for crispy chicken karaage batter. Will substitutes work as well? I have no idea, but you can try.
- Pagoda Pure Potato Starch 350g – $1.50 (FairPrice)
- Flying Man Tapioca Starch 500g – $0.90 (FairPrice)
This is basically Japanese rice flour, used to make dango and can be found at Daiso in 230g packet. Of course, Japanese rice is different from Thai rice, but you can still try to substitute it.
- Erawan Elephant Rice Flour 600g – $1.30 (FairPrice)
4. Okinawa black sugar
I have to disclaim that the sugar from Daiso is not pure Okinawa sugar, but have been processed with some starch and stuff. But when made into syrup, it tastes just like kuromitsu. If you wish to make your own kuromitsu with other ingredients, it is possible too! Just use dark muscovado sugar instead. 50g muscovado sugar, 50g white sugar and 50ml water is what you’ll need to make kuromitsu.
- Pagoda Unrefined Dark Brown Soft Sugar (Dark Muscovado) 500g – $1.95 (Sheng Siong)
- Pasar Small Red Beans 500g – $2.05 ( FairPrice)
- Yew Hwa Red Bean Paste 1kg – $5.50 (Sheng Siong)
- Red Man Red Bean Paste 1kg (Phoon Huat)
6. Kanten Powder
- Agar Agar Powder 250g – $13.50 (Phoon Huat)
- Rose Brand Finest Agar Agar Powder 12g – $1.00 (Giant)
- Seagull Finest Agar Powder 12g – $1.00 (Sheng Siong)
- Swallow Globe Brand Agar Agar Powder 10g – $1.10 (FairPrice)
- Pasar Black Sesame 150g – $1.40 (FairPrice)
- Pagoda Roasted Black Sesame 200g – $2.80 (FairPrice)