Chocolates and Sweets from Japan: Understated Flavor and Elegance

On the Ginza in Tokyo, Wako department store flaunts its chocolate shop on the exterior of the main building.  Immediate gratification is in order when chocolate is required -no need to fight through crowds and ride escalators.  Purchasing and partaking in the delights from the Wako chocolate store are a wonderful reminder to be attentive to what one is eating. This culture has taught me savor every second of taste and mouth feel of chocolates and truffles, for it is again apparent that less is more here.  Subtlety in flavoring rather than big bursts of additives, and diminutive portions more than large servings, are preferred by the Japanese.

Purchasing a ten piece box to appraise the types of bonbons preferred by the Japanese one finds that each piece is carefully flavored as if kissed daintily with the liquors, tea, fruit purees and nuts in order to give them their subtle taste.  A variety of shapes – round, square and rectangular give visual interest to the assortment, some stenciled in gold or decorated in a minimalist fashion.  The seductive “Nipple of Venus” or “Cappezzoli di Venere”, as they are known as in Italy is positioned off to the side.

Cappezzoli di Venere, is composed of a chocolate mousse, dipped in bittersweet chocolate, its very tip dipped in white chocolate.  Seduction in food and all else is not as candid as Europe and the United States.  Little indications of sensuality are sometimes far more exciting that the overt, restraint in flavoring and presentation are practiced.

In a sandwich and pastry shop on the Ginza, they offer offers boxes of neatly compartmentalized sandwich cookies, financiers, Russian tea cakes, and butter cookies. All are wrapped in cellophane with delicate gold designs and lyrical golden Japanese writing.  The outside of the box is petal pink and the message on the outside is translated to English to read, “For rich and mild tasteful flavors will make your heart warm”.  My heart needs warming.

Simplicity and orderliness in presentation makes it easy for focused tastings of the tiny treasures.  Sandwiched between to perfectly baked butter cookies, the fruitwiches have either a blueberry or soft raisin buttercream – two flavors rarely used for buttercreams here in the states.  They are as the lid of the box predicted “rich, mild and tasteful flavors that warmed my heart”.  The mere hint of flavor compelled me to think of what I am eating and it is delicious.

The golden and chocolate financiers were another delicious highlight of the selection.  These are baked in a long rectangular shape that are supposed to resemble bars of gold – hence the name ‘’financier”.  They are first to have become popular in the Parisian financial district.  They are made chiefly of almond flour, butter, egg whites and sugar, and to the Japanese these are more than enough to tastes to sift through on the tongue.

One of the most fascinating desserts of all is the summer treat “kudzu kiri”. It is a dessert that elicits giggles from the Japanese.  It is made from the Kudu is a vine which is in the pea family.  It can grow up to a foot a day, sixty feet a year if the temperature and climate is right. The kudzu vine produces beautiful and fragrant orchid color flowers.

The fine is pulverized, made into the consistency of jelly, then extruded and dried – the end result looking somewhat like vermicelli.  Sweet shops then boil it and it turns into an iridescent, gelatinous substance that looks remarkably like a jelly fish.  It is served in cold water with a choice of syrups made from black sugar, plums, or green tea.

One has to grow accustomed to its appearance but the Japanese slurp them with merriment.  They are healthy and low in calories.

-Barbara Esatto, The Chocolate Goddess