I used to eat yokan when I was very young, but as I grew up it simply disappeared. Many years later I got a recipe book about tea dessert, and I saw it again. The recipe was for a matcha yokan, therefore I knew it to be the famous dessert that accompanies the Japanese tea ceremony. But I was also wondering: if it was vegetarian, why did the name include the character for goats and sheep (羊)? I checked it online and found that this dessert actually originated from China, but it became popular when it was brought to Japan. As for the name, according to legend, the yokan produced in China resembled the liver of a goat. When it was brought to Japan, the character for liver (肝) was confused with another character (羹, which means meal? Sorry, I am not sure about the Japanese meaning), so the name gradually became yokan (羊羹).
The original yokan actually did contain an animal product, which is today known as gelatin. However, monks (who don't eat animal products) later invented a vegetarian version. Hmm, this reminds me of sushi, which used to be a Chinese snack, but later became the national dish of Japan only to disappeared totally from China. Was it because Chinese chefs refused to communicate with each other and share their tips and recipes, thereby letting a lot of yummy food simply go extinct when they died?
Yields 2 bowls
5g agar agar threads (琼脂)
150g sweetened red bean paste
1. Soak the agar agar threads in the water until they become soft. Then boil until they melt completely.
2. Add red bean paste, stir well, and pour into bowls.
3. Cool to room temperature. Pour from the bowls to a plate, done!
Sichuanese native and Chengdu resident Annie blogs about her adventures in cooking vegetarian meals, adapting recipes from around the world. Recently she has translated some of her favorite posts into English for GoChengdoo readers to enjoy. The original, Chinese-language version of this post can be viewed here. Photo by Annie Chen.