One day, in another lifetime, I might be born with less of a sweet tooth but until that day arrives, I find myself in a bit of a calorific pickle. Perhaps, with insight into this issue, I ought to have selected a life partner who doesn’t share my love of desserts but with Pumpkin being just as guilty of sugar-crimes against our bodies, we both confess that our diets could do with a spot of tweaking. I’m working on it, I’m working on it – less of the judgement please.
When it came to our trip to Japan last year, however, even Pumpkin bowed out, asserting that he would not be partaking in any Japanese dessert-related shenanigans with me, totally un-inspired by flavours such as black sesame, red bean and green tea.
You would have thought that this may have paused me in my saccharine tracks.
You would have been wrong.
As promised in my earlier post on 15 foods you must try in Japan, today I present to you, my (worryingly long) list of Japanese dessert highlights. Ranking them presented too much of a culinary conundrum (and had me raiding the house for Japanese dessert stashes – hardly sensible and hardly a store cupboard ingredient in most homes) so I gave up on that idea and boxed them into categories. In the interests of blogger research, I of course, had no choice but to sample one from each category 😀
Dessert Highlights from Japan
The Breakfast Dessert
I figured I can be let off for this matcha croissant (with matcha sponge cake somehow weaved into it) since breakfast is the most important meal of the day and therefore should really be excluded from any holiday dessert tallies right?
And a croissant or Danish-style pastry is hardly a criminal offence at breakfast time. Conscience appeased. Let’s move on.
The Seasonal Dessert
Chefs all around the world make a point of emphasising the perks of investing in, cooking with and of course, sampling seasonal produce. We’ve all seen how inexplicably popular the Starbucks seasonal specials are each year at Halloween and Christmas time. Seasonal ingredients are a must-try, particularly when you’re travelling abroad and coming across flavours that you’ll almost never find back at home; for me in Japan, that was sakura (cherry blossom) desserts.
During our day trip to the Fuji Shibazakura Festival, immersed among swathes of pink fields, we found a patisserie serving almost entirely sakura desserts, I found this heavenly cherry blossom sakura eclair, filled with strawberries from the Fuji region (that we went on to pick ourselves later that day).
The Soft Serves
I had never anticipated just how popular soft serves are in Japan. We found them in every city and in ample flavour choices.
I slurped down the first one within 8 hours of checking into our first hotel in Tokyo and after all that talk of seasonal sakura joy, I couldn’t let the month of April pass without sampling a sakura soft serve.
There was no chance of Pumpkin wanting to share in my purple sweet potato and black sesame combi soft serve so I had that one to myself and it will come as no surprise to those of you who have sussed out my tastes that matcha featured on more than one occasion.
Matcha Parfaits in Kyoto
If you are equally matcha-savvy, then there is nowhere better in Japan to go experimenting for matcha desserts than the Gion district of Kyoto (the Geisha region and the origin of the matcha green tea ceremony.) The streets are lined with dessert parlours selling parfaits (which, to many of us, are best recognised as ice cream sundaes).
We headed to world-famous Tsujiri, a Kyoto tea house institution dating back to the 1800s and now present in various locations across the world (including London – hurrah!) Although the menus leave diners with an impossible array of temptation, I went with one of the most traditional types of matcha parfait with azuki beans, chestnuts and a whole load of other treats.
Unfortunately, I am unable to list them because I was too infatuated by my dessert to have eyes for anyone or anything else, as my long silver spoon scraped the walls of the sundae glass till the final ice cream residue was out of sight.
London-based matcha lovers can have a green-tea feast of their own on this matcha walking tour I went on last year.
The Floral Dessert
And from a conventional parfait in the traditional city of Kyoto to an altogether unique parfait in the modern city of Tokyo, I have Nano to thank for introducing me to the rose flower parfait I devoured at the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House in Omotesando. Akin to something one might expect to order in the Garden of Eden, this glass encased a dessert, comprising vanilla ice cream, rose jelly, fresh berries and nuts, felt suitable for the most elegant of royalty.
In actual fact, I felt a little like a fraud, being privy to a delectable delicacy of such finesse. Needless to say, much time was spent trying to capture its grace through the lens, whilst a bewildered Pumpkin looked on in dismay as myself and around a dozen women around me did the same.
The Train Station Dessert
Buying a snack at a train station is hardly exclusive to Japan. Buying a snack because you’ve spent an hour wandering around a train station trying to find the correct platform or exit perhaps is though.
I’ve already touched on the magnitude of Shinjuku Train Station in my post about travel tips for Japan but one of the perks of being lost in a station of this size is that we stumbled upon Baked Cheese Tart and the queues around it.
Needless to say, the FOMO kicked in and a few minutes later, I had one in hand. It was sweet (obviously, given its mention in my dessert round-up post) and filled with a creamy, comforting, cheese filling served warm and contained within a crispy pastry shell, just bite sized enough to draw in even the dieters.
The Island Special dessert
The island I am referring to is Miyajima, which for me, was the most enchanting place we visited in Japan. The morning we were leaving the island, as the shops started to come to life, we found an abundance what looked rather like mini star-shaped cakes.
Actually made from a fluffy, melt in the mouth casing, similar to a pancake but packed full of soft and creamy filling, some of these Momiji, which translates to maple leaf) were being made freshly on the premises of shops, whilst other pre-packaged ones were being touted by competing neighbouring stores.
The One that got away….from London- Cream Puffs
Many years ago, it must have been around just under a decade ago, my sister and I read an article about a new Japanese cream puff place that had opened up in the centre of London. Known as Beard Papa Cream Puffs, on our measly salaries, we marched down there and could not believe it was still such a well-kept secret.
With a couple of staple flavours that were there each time and the occasional matcha filled cream puffs (which back then, was nothing like the trend it is now), this soon became our go-to place for late night dessert treats. And then it shut, silencing us and perhaps serving us a signal from above about curtailing our cream-puff consumption.
There was not a chance, therefore, that I was going to walk past the branch of Beard Papa at Osaka Station without reacquainting myself with these and however much Pumpkin may have been cringing as I photographed the stall, it had to be done so I could send it to my sister for nostalgia purposes; though I perhaps had less persuasive excuses for the other custard-filled choux indulgences I might have dabbled in en route…
The Colourful Dessert
I didn’t order this dessert at the Kawaii Monster Cafe, which I am going to be blogging all about in due course. I took a break from all the eating here and kept hydrated instead with a juice but when I spotted a neighbouring diner being served this slab of cake, it simply had to feature for quite possibly the most psychedelic, colourful cake I have ever laid eyes on.
The Kawaii Cute Desserts
Not all of the desserts we found in Japan were noteworthy for their flavours. These ice creams we ordered at the Maid Cafe were more photogenic than they were high quality but no one really goes to these places for high-end cuisine and their visuals alone together with the quirky experience were worth the visit.
If you know nothing about maid cafes, have a read of my recent post on my top “Only in Japan” moments.
The Fancy Fine Dining Dessert
Fine Dining wasn’t high on my radar when I visited Japan, as we mostly love to experience more authentic cuisines and eat where the locals eat. Tokyo is, however, one of the most incredible cities in the world for the fine dining experience so as a one-off, we headed to Kozue at the Park Hyatt and whilst the oblong slab of black sesame dessert I ordered is certainly an acquired taste, it was a suitably bold ending to a meal that pushed the boundaries of contemporary Japanese cuisine.
The Take Home Souvenir Dessert
And finally, I will conclude with the desserts we brought back home as souvenirs and gifts for others in the form of wagashi (traditional small pieces of Japanese confectionery, traditionally served with tea).
A huge selection were available in the food halls of many large department stores including Takashimaya and Isetan with flavours ranging from matcha, peach and sakura to red bean and chestnut.
Londoners, if you are intrigued, Minamoto Kitchoan in Picccadilly and Charing Cross serve flawlessly presented wagashi.
Are you a fan of Japanese desserts? Have any of my favourite finds appealed to your sugar senses?