Thursday, May 12, 2005

3 o'clock snack: Sanji no Oyatsu

Japanese kids all beam with delight when 3 o'clock rolls around in anticipation of Sanji no Oyatsu, which literally translates to 3 o'clock Snack. Snack options in Japan is amazingly diverse and kids and adults take great pleasure in snacking. Some snacks are more healthy than others, but the best treats for me were always the Western-style pastries in the numerous cafes in Japan.

One time, I was out with my friend, shopping around downtown Nagoya when we stopped in a cafe for a 3 o'clock snack. The offerings there were SOOOOO good, I literally ate two full plates of desserts. And these weren't any old desserts like a single cookie or a brownie. These could have been served as desserts in the finest of fine restaurants. I can't remember the dishes or the name of the cafe, but I remember the look on the waitress' face when I asked for a second dish... I was probably 12 yrs old or so, and my hearty appetite was already in full force then.


During my last trip to Japan, I explored the parfaits at the cafe in the Nagoya Marriott. Interestingly, unlike the Marriotts here, the ones in Japan are really upscale. And the cafe boasts a French-trained pastry chef, whose specialty is parfaits.


These parfaits were really works of art. They were breathtakingly gorgeous with white chocolate wings and milk chocolate swirls proudly topping each parfait. What we thought was ice cream on the white chocolate topped 'caramel parfait' was actually a flan-like custard, an interesting twist indeed. Layered with pound cake cubes and whipped cream, along with scoops of ice cream nestled in the center, these parfaits could have been meals.

But the winner dish for my Sanji no Oyatsu was the Mont Blanc. I grew up eating these Mont Blancs, calling them Monburan, never knowing that they were French. So much so that when I ordered a Mont Blanc at Angelina's in Paris - just because that was the dessert they were famous for - I didn't know what I was getting until it was delivered to me and I had a bite. It was a light bulb moment when it finally clicked that a Monburan was a Mont Blanc!

The Mont Blanc at the cafe in the Marriott was very good. Very, very good. It was full of chestnut aroma with creamy smoothness to gently satisfy me. Along side the cup of coffee, I had a moment of epicurean debauchery, fulfilling my desires with a sense of almost sinful luxury.

As I mentioned before, the Japanese are serious Francophiles, and the culinary culture greatly benefits from the French influences. While the traditional sweets of red bean paste and rice cakes, like sakura mochi, are still very much present and loved, the options for 3 o'clock snacks are enriched significantly by the French culinary tradition of exquisite desserts. I haven't quite successfully fulfilled my love for these treats in the Bay Area yet, but I'm constantly exploring. I should stop by Justa Bite again sometime soon! And please, let me know if you have a favorite dessert destination!!!!


Clea said...

Yes, the Japanese are VERY serious francophiles! I am French, but the very first time I ate Mont-Blanc was... in Japan!

Anonymous said...

Your posts always make me drool! I had the same experience with monburan/Mont Blanc. I also wondered why they called cream puffs "shoe cream" until I figured out, duh, it's choux not shoe! I'm going to be in SF next weekend, so thanks for the reminder about that dessert spot! Oh, I also read about a place in the Financial District that serves matcha frozen yogurt. Does that sound familiar?

Alice said...

Clea & Mariko-san,

These are really funny anecdotes!!!

Clea, did you know that Monburan was a French word?!

Mariko-san, I'm sorry, but I don't think I know which one the matcha frozen yogurt store is... BUT, an interesting place to try is Polly Ann's. They have super Kyoretsu durian ice cream and other non-standard flavors!