Desserts are the best part of any meal, even better when you’re trying out new tastes and flavors in a place you’ve never been to! Japanese desserts are unlike most western treats we’re used to as they aren’t overly sweet or overpowering, instead, they utilize milder and more subtle flavors that tickle the taste buds. Aside from traditional Japanese treats like wagashi, more modern desserts still possess this delicate quality that sets them aside from sugary and tooth-achingly sweet bites.
Here, we’ve listed some of the most famous Japanese desserts that you should definitely try the next time you visit Japan!
The parfait is originally a French dessert that has gained popularity in Japan. While the French parfait is made with custard, Japanese parfait is based on the American counterpart that uses ice cream and fresh whipped cream layered with fruits.
What makes the Japanese parfait unique from other variations is the use of seasonal ingredients, like strawberries in the winter or Okayama peaches in the summer, and chestnuts in autumn.
When it comes to the layers, the Japanese parfait uses nama kurimu or fresh cream with thick custard or pudding. Then, there’s the sponge cake layer which uses castella cake or Swiss rolls. Some places serve them with layers of traditional Japanese flavors like dango or anko–sweet red bean paste. Kurimitsu or black sugar syrup is drizzled on top as well. You’ll also find something crunchy in the dessert, like a waffle, a Pocky stick, or even cereal.
You’ll find some of the most beautiful parfaits in dessert shops across Tokyo and Kyoto.
One of these places is a gelato shop called SUGiTORA in Kyoto, near the Teramachi Shotengai and Shinkyogoku Shotengai shopping areas, or you can pay a visit to Saryo Suisen in Gion for their unique parfait flavors like matcha, mochi, and dorayaki. If you find yourself looking for something sweet in Tokyo, you can try the Fruit Parlour Goto, a favorite in Asakusa, where you can assemble your dessert and try their selection of fruits.
You may already be familiar with the jiggly, fluffy, and thick Japanese cheesecake, also known as cotton cake, Japanese souffle, or pillow cake. This kind of sponge cake is fickle to make as it uses a combination of meringue and cream cheese in its batter. This dessert went viral on various social media sites for its jiggly appearance and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
You can easily find Japanese cheesecakes being sold as street food in Japan with their own unique variations, and now almost every city in the world has access to the fluffy treat. But if you find yourself in Osaka, Rikuro’s Cheesecake in the Chuo Ward is a must-visit just for the treat. You can also pay a visit to Uncle Tetsu’s Cheesecake in Fukuoka for their famous signature dish.
Kabocha Squash Pie
Kabocha Squash is a Japanese winter squash that has a fluffy texture with a taste that resembles a mix between sweet potatoes and pumpkin. With that said, kabocha pie is a lot like pumpkin pie–only better, according to anyone who tried.
You can get a taste of kabocha pie anywhere around Japan, especially in Tokyo.
Wagashi are traditional Japanese desserts that are usually enjoyed with a cup of green tea or during tea ceremonies. Wagashi would typically use plant-based ingredients like azuki beans, rice cakes, rice flour, agar, sesame paste, and chestnuts. Vegans and vegetarians would be able to enjoy most wagashi without worry.
Some types of wagashi can only be enjoyed seasonally or regionally, so it’s good to keep an eye out when you’re visiting Japan! They’re easily found in local cafes, restaurants, temples, gardens, and pastry shops in the country. Some of the best kinds can be found in Tokyo around the Asakusa and Ginza District.
Castella Cake or “Kasutera” is a Japanese sponge cake variety that uses no leavening agent except for eggs and contains a higher gluten content than regular Western sponge cakes. Castella cakes are extremely popular in Japan and are sold almost everywhere, and are sometimes bought as souvenirs.
Some of the best castella cakes can be found in Nagasaki, where you can find the “Big Three” of castella cake brands: “Sho’oken” in Uonomachi, “Fukusaya” in Onouemachi near Nagasaki Station, and “Bunmeido” in Edomachi. Conveniently, if you find yourself in Tokyo and are unable to make a stop in Nagasaki, you’ll be able to find the Bunmeido in the Ginza District.
Kakigori is a shaved ice dessert that’s flavored with sweet syrup, sometimes with condensed milk. Traditionally, kakigori uses a hand-operated machine that spins a block of ice over a blade to chip it into small pieces. Street vendors often use this method until today, but some opt to use electric shavers. This dessert is more often enjoyed in the summer as a refreshing treat.
Kakigori is very similar to the snow cone we’re all familiar with, but the ice is notably smoother and fluffier, resembling that of fresh snow. Some variations of the treat have mochi toppings, sweet red bean paste, orange slices, cherries, and many other fruits.
Kakigori can be commonly found in Kagoshima, and in Uji in Kyoto.
The Japanese Fruit Sandwich, or Fruit Sando, is basically two slices of Japanese milk bread filled with a selected arrangement of fruit and thick whipped cream. The combination of the light and sweet bread slices or shokupan and the delicious fruits with the cream makes for a delightful treat for springs and summers–or really just all year round!
You can just about find fruit sando in any fruit parlor or cafe in Japan, mostly in Kyoto than in Tokyo. But this does not mean that it’s hard to find, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Fruit sandwiches are so common and such a popular snack that you can easily find them in convenience stores like 7-eleven, Lawson, and Family Mart.
But if you manage to find yourself in Tokyo and not wanting to try convenience-store fruit sando, you can head on over to The Tokyo Fruits in Setagaya City for their high-quality fruits from all over the country, or to Ginza where you’ll find Centre the Bakery and the fresh bread that they use for their sandwich. Be sure to get there not too long after opening time though, customers are eager to take home their treats.
Matcha Swiss Roll
Also referred to as just Swiss rolls or roll cakes, this dessert is not unlike any Swiss roll that anyone has had in their life. The unique factor in this dessert is the use of matcha or green tea in the sponge cake and the filling. Matcha Swiss rolls are a light and fluffy treat but are not overwhelmingly sweet, becoming a favorite to those who don’t like sugary treats.
There are other variations of Swiss rolls with Japanese flavors like black sesame, chestnut, dango, and purin or creme caramel but matcha is the most popular choice, even abroad. These roll cakes are very common in cafes and restaurants all over Japan that you’ll just about find them in almost every city.
If you find yourself in Tokyo, be sure to check the Ginza district for Salon Ginza Sabou for their sought-after matcha desserts, or the matcha-specializing cafe Saryo Kagurazaka in Shinjuku. In Kyoto, try to drop by Teo Kafon in Nakagyo for their matcha sweets plate that, other than a slice of roll cake, includes matcha tarts, a chocolate ball, and other pastries like an eclair.
Mushi pan are a lot like a cousin of the regular cupcakes we’re all familiar with but their difference is in the cooking method. While the cupcakes we know are baked in an oven, mushi pan are steamed and would sometimes contain chunks of sweet potato, resulting in a healthier treat.
This dessert can easily be made at home since you really just need cupcake ingredients and a steamer. The flavors are very flexible and you’ll even find some more savory kinds like cheese or egg.
Mushi pan are often sold in individual packages in convenience stores, a lot like those packs of cupcakes or brownies we often see. You can try cafes and pastry shops in Kyoto, Tokyo and Osaka if you really want something special but you’ll likely find the more commercialized snack more often than being served in a coffee shop.
Also called Kaminari-okoshi, this dessert is very similar to rice crispy treats. Its main ingredient is rice, which has been roasted until they pop and mixed together with gooey sugar syrup with butter or corn syrup so they can hold their rectangular shape even after being cut into squares.
Don’t let the comparison to the modern rice crispy treats fool you–okoshi has been around since the Edo Period in Japan. It was a common street food sold around the temples in Asakusa, where you can still find it to this day, so make sure to look for them while you’re in Tokyo! You might even find vendors who demonstrate the preparation and process of making okoshi to their spectating customers. These are also bought as souvenirs and are the most famous one from Asakusa.
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