Uirou – Sweet Traditional Japanese Steamed Rice Cake

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Uirou is a sweet traditional Japanese steamed rice cake that is a specialty of the city of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture in Japan; however there are other areas which make it. Uirou has the consistency that is similar to mochi. However, unlike mochi (which is made with glutinous rice), uirou is made of non-glutinous rice and sugar, and is then steamed. The end result is a sweet that is chewy like mochi with a look of a thick jelly. It has a very interesting and distinct texture to it that makes it pleasing to eat. You can find it in various flavors, such as original, red bean, strawberry, green tea, and chestnut.

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Uirou is traditionally made by mixing flour, water, and sugar together and kneading the mixture. Then the mixture is poured into a mold and is put in a traditional bamboo basket to be steamed. After it has been steamed, it is left to cool off and then can be eaten. However, there are many recipes these days that allow you to make uirou in the microwave.

The origin of uirou is still debated. One belief is that uirou was originally the name of a medicine to help soothe the throat. After drinking the medicine, people experienced a very bitter taste in their mouths so eating something sweet after drinking the medicine became a common practice. It is said to have been around since the 1600s in Japan.

Like most Japanese confections, uirou is not overpoweringly sweet. Japanese sweets tend to be less sweet than treats you would find in Western countries. The subtle sweetness of uirou mixed with the chewy texture makes it a very light and tasty treat. Uirou also has very few ingredients. As it has so few ingredients, you are able to savor the simple flavor of each piece of uirou.

As mentioned before, probably the most famous place for uirou is Nagoya. In elementary schools in Nagoya, sometimes uirou is served as the dessert after lunch! Even though uirou carries an image of Nagoya, some other areas of Japan that make uirou are Yamaguchi prefecture, Kanagawa prefecture Odawara, Tokushima prefecture, and Miyazaki prefecture. One of the reasons Nagoya has this image is because when the shinkansen (bullet train) first opened in 1964, Nagoya uirou were sold in the train. This made it popular with the travelers who rode the shinkansen, and the image grew from there.

Uirou are often eaten during tea ceremonies in Japan. This traditional sweet goes well with the cultural tradition of tea ceremonies. It is customary in Japan to eat something sweet at the end of a tea ceremony. With their light taste and colors that usually reflect the seasons of spring or autumn, such as  pink, brown, orange, and green, uirou are the perfect treat to enjoy after a tea ceremony. You don’t have to participate in a tea ceremony to enjoy uirou though. You can pick it up at many traditional Japanese confectionary shops. It is also sold at many department stores and even supermarkets in Japan.

If you have the chance to try uirou, you should definitely try some (along with some green tea)! Also don’t forget to pick some up for your family and friends!