This is a guest post by Shayna Josi. Shayna was worked near Tokyo in Japan for four years on the JET Programme. As a big fan of Japanese desserts, here are her recommendations.
When travelling in Japan as a tourist, you’re going to be exposed to a wide variety of food in a short amount of time because of the frantic nature of travel.
All these desserts and sweet treats can be found either at your corner konbini (convenience store) or regular supermarket. Some of them are less known than the more popular and traditional wagashi, and some appear Western, but Japan has taken all of these and made them their own.
7/11’s Cream Puffs (シュークリーム)
On any occasion, 7/11 will have some sort of special version of their classic cream puff, but as far as my opinion goes, the original has always been the best.
Their cream puff is big and fluffy: a delicate pastry shell filled with a decadent vanilla custard. This cream puff is a part of their standard line of desserts, so you can reliably expect it to be available all year round.
Seasonal offerings alongside their standard one include pumpkin and purple sweet potato in autumn and cherry blossom in spring.
Beard Papa’s Cream Puffs
While we’re on the topic of cream puffs, the Beard Papa’s chain of cream puffs also serves up a great cream puff. They have a Paris Brest, standard cream puff and a cookies cream puff on their permanent menu, along with seasonal offerings such as lemon or melon flavours.
Yes, croissant taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry) is a thing, and it’s even better than it sounds. Taiyaki is usually made with a kind of pancake batter, but croissant taiyaki uses a kind of puff pastry that is reminiscent of croissants.
The croissant taiyaki is pressed so that it has the iconic sea bream shape, and the result is a taiyaki with pastry so crisp it shatters in the mouth, making for great contrast with the creamy filling. The usual vanilla custard and red bean fillings are available, but chocolate custard is also an option, along with seasonal specials such as sakura mochi and cinnamon apple.
You can find Croissant Taiyaki at the ecute section of Ueno Station, and there are other branches across Japan.
Annin Doufu (杏仁豆腐)
A mainstay of both convenience stores and buffets in Japan, annin doufu is one of those dishes originally from China that Japan has adopted.
Rather than what the name implies, it doesn’t contain tofu at all, but is instead a white pudding made of apricot kernels. It has an almond flavour, reminiscent of marzipan or Italian amaretti.
Thick and creamy and often topped with a crimson goji berry, this unassuming dessert packs a flavour punch and is something that’s truly unique.
There are no losers in the world of cheese-based desserts, and variety is always welcome. Japan has stepped up to the plate and offers cheesecake in all its splendour, along with cheese tarts.
Originating in Hokkaido, cheese tarts consist of a crisp crust that’s seen in Anglo-style tarts and American-style pies. The cheese tart is open-faced, and the filling is a rich and creamy cheese custard which varies in texture from melty and gooey to firm and fluffy.
Cheese tarts can come in many flavours, from matcha to chocolate, and aren’t as sweet as their cheesecake counterparts. Cheese tarts are a recent innovation and have taken off in Japan. The two major brands are Pablo Cheese Tart, an Osaka-based franchise with branches across Japan, and BAKE Cheese Tart, a Hokkaido-based franchise and one of Japan’s first.
Convenience stores also periodically stock cheese tarts, but eating one fresh from the oven is definitely preferable.
Obanyaki is one of those foods that has a different name wherever you go. Also commonly known as imagawayaki (今川焼), obanyaki are small, round pancakes with a sweet filling. Obanyaki are most often seen at summer festivals where they’re a staple, but you can also find them in the frozen section in supermarkets in Japan, where you can find flavours not often seen, like sweet cream cheese.
The frozen ones are delicious and easy to cook as you just need to heat them up. You can find them in packs of four or five.
Cremia Soft Serve
Soft serve is always delicious, and it’s so prevelant in Japan that it can be considered an obsession. Seasonal specialities such as plum, cherry blossom, melon and sweet potato abound, along with the usual mainstays of vanilla and chocolate.
Kyoto’s Nishiki Market has stores which sells soft serve in a variety of Japanese tea flavours, such as mugicha (barley), green tea and hojicha (brown rice). However, the very best in premium soft serve has to be cremia.
Cremia is sold as plain, chocolate, and dusted in matcha or cocoa powder. The ice cream itself is so creamy that it coats the tongue with each lick, giving a decadent mouth-feel reminiscent of the very highest quality chocolate.
The cone used to hold cremia was specifically designed for the soft serve: rather than a conventional cone, it’s a delicate and buttery tuille cookie that perfectly complements the creamy ice cream it holds.
Cremia is one of the best ice cream experiences you’ll ever have and is a definite must-have when visiting Japan. You can buy Cremia at various outlets throughout Japan, including Excelsior coffee shops.
My two favourite parfaits are the seasonal ones 7/11 do and the ones you get in restaurants. They don’t even have to be a speciality parfait restaurant; any family restaurant worth their salt has at least three parfait options, and at least one of them will be limited edition and seasonal.
Built upon layers and layers of textures and flavours, Japanese parfaits are unlike the sundaes we often see outside of Japan. Texture is important here: cornflakes or puffed rice cereals often make up the bottom layer, providing contrast to creamy ice cream and tender fruit.
Seasonality is also exciting; autumn often features parfaits with whole candied chestnuts, pumpkin and sweet potato, which sounds odd but makes for a creamy and decadent dessert.
7/11’s parfaits consist of a bitter tea mousse, most often hojicha or matcha, with cubed flavoured jellies, fresh fruit, cream and custard. It’s a ridiculously indulgent dessert from a convenience store, and its beauty and decadence makes you feel like you’re experiencing something special, especially at such a low price.
Having these delicious desserts so readily available means they form a part of the landscape for the locals in Japan, and if you like sweets they’ll become a wonderful sweet part of your own life while living in Japan. Consider joining a local with Doot Experiences to enjoy a delicious dessert together and make a friend out of them!