February means Valentine’s Day, even in Japan! It’s quite a new holiday there, but it has been embraced by modern culture and there are lots of ways to celebrate.
This month’s specially designed pink Sakuraco box features a beautiful design of a traditionally dressed couple silhouetted against a gold background.
Inside the box is a beautiful menu booklet, which is illustrated with marvellous photographs, and contains fascinating information about the cultural treasures and traditions of this time of year in Japan. There is also, of course, detailed descriptions of all the treats inside, including an allergen list. You can also learn about the background to some of the items, as many have significance to the holiday or the region.
The pink colour of the Strawberry Daifuku is perfect for Valentine’s. Daifuku is a kind of filled mochi, a soft and chewy sweetmeat made from starchy rice flour, rather like a marshmallow. These strawberry ones have the strawberry in both the outer mochi and also infused in to the sweet bean paste filling, they have a lovely intense flavour with just a hint of sharpness.
Chocolate is heavily featured, on Valentine’s Day in Japan, and this Chocolate Danish contains delicious chocolate layers. Japanese Danish pastries are made from Italian yeast and fermented for a long time to give a wonderful moist texture and softness. A lovely treat to go with a cup of tea.
Ume Renkon Chips are fried thin lotus root chips. They are crisp and light, and they have a delicious sour plum coating which goes beautifully with the crunchy texture.
Grape is a favourite flavour for sweets in Japan, and the Wild Grape Gummies are made from the wild grapes of Iwate Prefecture. They have a sweet and intense flavour, and a pleasing jelly filling.
Mentaiko Senbei is a little hit of spiciness in the sweet. The crunchy rice cracker has a coating of spiced cod roe, which is often seen in Japanese foods.
Another sweet red bean paste item this month is the Komachi Adzuki Pie. This is a filled pastry made from flaky puff pastry which encases the bean paste, which has a sweet and earthy flavour.
At first I assumed the Dorayaki was going to be chocolate filled, but it’s actually Peach! These little pastries are made from little honey pancakes which contain various fillings. This version contains traditional bean paste with the famous white peach from Okayama, and they are seriously good.
The Cacao Tea is a combination of sencha leaf tea and cacao husk. Sencha has a mild flavour, and the addition of the cacao husk give is a beautiful subtle chocolate taste. It’s also extremely eco-friendly, as it uses the cacao husk which is usually discarded.
Anko Chocolate Arare are small but with a big flavour! Arare are bite-size crackers, usually with sweet soy coating, but instead these chocolate-flavoured red bean paste with a lovely bitter edge of cocoa.
White Chocolate Fruits are, as you might guess, a combination of fruit and white chocolate. But these are really rather special – they are banana that have been infused which white chocolate which gives a heavenly flavour and texture.
For another spicy kick we have Chili Oil Ebi Senbei. These crunchy rice crackers have a shrimp-infused batter that is coated with a chilli pepper sauce and chilli oil. They’re definitely on the hot side but the heat and crispy texture are quite exhilarating!
Strawberry Chocolate Crunch is another fruity white chocolate treat. The little mouthfuls are made from puffed rice mixed with strawberry white chocolate and extra pieces of freeze-dried strawberry for an extra boost of flavour.
Every Sakuraco box includes a small item of Japanese homeware. This month is one of two ceramic plates, made in Gifu, which is celebrated for its ceramic crafts. This design is called Kikko, which resembles the hexagonal armour plating worn by the samurai.
And as a final nod to Valentine’s Day, we have Mini Heart Arare. These adorable little heart-shaped crunchy rice crackers are flavoured with a lovely plum coating.