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Anko-phile’s sweet way to fill passion

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Yonayona anko sweets shop owner Takanori Okagaki holds shiratama zenzai with chestnuts, which he serves at his nighttime cafe in Saga.

By Yumi Ueda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSAGA — Anko red bean paste is a familiar ingredient in wagashi Japanese sweets, but an anko specialty shop near Saga University in Saga shows how well the item complements other types of food, too.

“Chocolate and cream are taboo in my shop. All menu items here contain anko,” said owner Takanori Okagaki.

Called Yonayona, the shop is open from about 9 p.m. to about midnight — hence its name, which means “nightly” in Japanese. Okagaki, 44, opens the shop after finishing at his day job as an ad designer for a drugstore in Saga.

The menu at Yonayona includes classic anko sweets such as shiratama zenzai (mochi dumplings in red bean soup) as well as surprising arrangements such as anko yogurt parfait, steamed potato with butter and anko, anko au lait and even a cocktail called Kahlua anko milk.

“Anko sweets are less fatty than Western confectioneries and also healthy. Anko is seen as a typical Japanese ingredient but it actually complements Western food too,” Okagaki said.

He said anko goes unexpectedly well with such liqueurs as brandy and wine.

The anko served at Yonayona is cooked from azuki red beans from Hokkaido that are simmered for five hours. The beans are seasoned with less sugar to keep the taste and texture of the fresh beans.

“I make anko that appeals even to those who aren’t big fans of it,” he said.

Okagaki realized he was an anko addict about 20 years ago when a former colleague was shocked to see him endlessly eating yokan red bean paste jelly souvenir from a client while he was working overtime.

Since then, Okagaki has eaten anko sweets whenever he sees them in pastry shops or supermarkets.

Last spring, he decided to open the anko shop when a champon ramen noodle restaurant that he often went to relocated. The noodle shop owner suggested that Okagaki, a regular customer ever since his days as a Saga University student, open a shop.

Okagaki studied recipes using anko to come up with menu items and opened the shop in June last year. Word spread online, and one weekend about 30 people formed a line at the entrance before it opened at 10:30 p.m.

“Anko can be combined with regular foods as a snack or breakfast,” he said. “I want many people to discover the delicacy of anko through various arrangements.”

Yonayona’s days of operation are not fixed, and the shop’s opening times are posted via Facebook or Twitter each day. Inquiries can be made via Facebook.

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How to make anko at home

Okagaki shares a recipe for tsubuan-style anko.

Directions:

1. Wash azuki red beans and soak them in water overnight.

2. Fill a deep pot with plenty of water and add beans before bringing to a boil.

3. Simmer until the water turns red. Drain beans with a strainer.

4. Return beans to pot and add water to heat again. Cook until beans are soft in the middle. Drain again.

5. Heat plenty of water and sugar in a different pot until it boils, then add beans and simmer. Turn off heat when liquid has somewhat reduced.

6. Cool.

*Ratio of beans to sugar should be 1-to-1. Reduce the amount of sugar if less sweetness is preferred.

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