Korean: 카스테라 (kastera) Japanese: カステラ (kasutera)
Koreatown is such a convenient place for me to buy kastera (how the Koreans transliterate castella or the Japanese kasutera into English). The mass-produced ones are really just airy sponge cakes in the shape of big oval cupcakes.
Cosmos Bakery (30 E. Live Oak, Arcadia, CA 91006) supplies grocery stores with “Soft Sponge Cake” labeled 카스테라 — that’s hangul for kastera. Four large cupcakes in a plastic case retail at $3.99. Ingredients: flour, egg, sugar, milk, baking powder. The label says they use no preservatives. These baked products are a cheap, guilty indulgence — they are good — but I don’t consider them “genuine” Japanese kasutera, which I have come to understand is not as spongy and comes in a rectangular shape.
The iconic Korean bakeshop chain Paris Baguette (125 N Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004) sells a small oval-shaped castella for two dollars. The texture is denser than sponge cake, but not as dense as Japanese kasutera. They also carry other cakes that look like rectangular-shaped Japanese kasutera and taste like the real thing — PB calls them “Mini Bon Delicieux” — three slices for $2.90.
Across the street, HK Supermarket (124 N Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90004) sells Keifuudou Kasutera imported from Japan. Just $3.99 for six rectangular slices of the real thing! Find it in the open refrigerated section in the center aisle. The translated English sticker label calls it “baked wheat cake.” Ingredients: egg, sugar, wheat flour, corn syrup, honey, sorbitol.
Caketown Garden (551 S Western Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90020) sells “herb” castella which is dark green and has the traditional rectangular block shape for under three dollars. They also sell cheaper “castella” for $1.50 but these are simply generic sponge cakes, albeit rectangular — four layers with thin cream between them. One variant they have is corn, which is worth trying just for novelty’s sake. Tastes a little like corn bread.
BbangGoomTeo Village Bakery (3839 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90010) has square-shaped kastera! There’s a variant studded with walnuts, among many other flavors and shapes. They even have something called “dry” castella cake. It was after my visit here that it dawned on me that Koreans use the word “kastera” not only for Japanese kasutera but for most pastries that bear any resemblance to a sponge cake.
Another prolific baker of kastera in Koreatown is Bosco Cake Salon. Among the flavors they offer are green tea, cheese, mocha and spinach! And the texture is like “real” Japanese kasutera.
The reason I keep using quotation marks is because the Japanese learned how to make castella from the Portuguese at Nagasaki back in the 16th century. Who cares though? It’s absolutely… Yum!