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In all likelihood, when you visit a Japanese restaurant, the dessert section of the menu will have a combination of Chinese desserts and some green tea ice cream. That is because “there are no desserts, in the Western sense, to be found in traditional Japanese food culture", explains Koizumi Kazuhiro, the Japanese chef of Pan Asian, ITC Maratha, Mumbai.

Yet the Japanese like their sweets, else how could a stand-alone Japanese bakery in the middle of Gurgaon claim to have done brisk business in the past year and have plans for a second outlet in south Delhi in the next three months? “The Japanese like to eat sweet stuff with tea and most of the items in our bakery are geared to meet the tea-time demand. The Japanese do not really eat desserts after meals," says Hitesh Kaul, team member, Iroha, the bakery in Gurgaon that serves Tokyo-style sweets. From maccha pudding (creamy baked custard), financiers and madeleines (rich butter tea cakes), fruit cups, crêpes and choux pastry to Shiratama Zenzai (sweet red beans with mochi, or Japanese rice cake, pillows), Iroha stocks about a dozen items and makes close to 30-40 of most items daily.

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Anmitsu at Wasabi by Morimoto, Delhi. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

According to Kazuhiro, some of the desserts and sweets gaining popularity in Japan are influenced by Western baking techniques; they include coffee and wine jelly, cakes and crème brûlée, and fruit-filled cakes. At the Pan Asian, Nori Crème brûlée with Wasabi is a popular dessert; as are Choux à la Crème, Fruits Short Cup (served with whipped cream), fresh fruit-filled crêpes with creamy filling, and flavoured custard puddings at Iroha.

Choux a la Creme. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
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Choux a la Creme. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

Wasabi by Morimoto, at the Taj Mahal hotel in Delhi, has nine dessert options on its menu currently. Only two of these—Anmitsu (green tea ice cream, fresh fruits) and Wasabi crème brûlée—really use Japanese ingredients and influences, says senior chef de partie Kaustubh Haldipur. In Anmitsu, maccha-flavoured ice cream rests on a bed of sweetened Azuki beans paste and is served with dices of kanten jelly. “We are not a traditional Japanese eatery in that sense, so our desserts are not really old-style. Also, over time we have seen that flavoured fruit jellies and red-bean desserts are not much liked by our guests, so we have not included them in this season’s menu," says Haldipur.

At Iroha, the Shiratama Zenzai is not a dessert that sells well with the Indian clientele either. The chewy mochi dumplings paired with boiled red beans are put in a mildly sweetened syrup and according to Kaul, “most Indians think it is rajma in sweet syrup and are not keen to try. It’s really an acquired taste." The Azuki beans and mochi pillows used in the dish are sourced from Japan, he adds.

A flavour that does seem to be gaining popularity in Japanese tea-time snacks is coffee. “In custard puddings and in the crêpe fillings, coffee works, and we find that in our Shiratama Zenzai too it works well. But we use only a hint of it and not too much. The Japanese do not like overpowering coffee flavour unlike Caucasians, and also like all dessert to be mildly sweet, unlike Indians," adds Iijima.

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