Good Food Blog
The sweet side of JapanPosted at 11:54AM, 05 June 2008 by Jenni Muir - Food writer
Central London seems to be turning Japanese. Barely a week goes by when there isn't a new sushi bar targeting office workers and shoppers, or a swish restaurant for showing off your chopstick technique to friends and business colleagues.
Old favourites are using their success to fund expansion, too. At Japan Centre on Piccadilly, where the lunchtime queue for sushi in the basement takeaway often stretches up the stairs, they've been bold. Not only have they taken over the site next door and expanded their range of groceries and fresh foods (meats cut specially for shabu shabu, veg including mooli and lotus root, more sushi), they've added a patisserie.
Apart from the occasional scoop of green tea ice cream - often sitting alongside a very European chocolate fondant - Japanese desserts barely get a look-in from most of us.
For decades Japanese food manufacturers have complained that the Brits think Japanese cuisine is just raw fish and rice. The raft of noodle bars and increasingly popular grill restaurants, sake bars and izakaya (Japanese pubs) prove that's no longer the case - but are we ready for the likes of red bean pastries and edamame gateau? Seriously, Japan Centre is selling a layered green cream cake made with fresh soy beans.
Apart from the occasional scoop of green tea ice cream - often sitting alongside a very European chocolate fondant - Japanese desserts barely get a look-in from most of us. Indeed, how often do we order desserts in any eastern restaurant, let alone the authentic puds?
I asked a few friends. One confessed a love of cendol , the Indonesian concoction of coconut milk, green noodles, beans - sometimes corn - and shaved ice but apart from that, the only must-haves seemed to be custard tarts or black sesame balls after dim sum. Thailand's mung bean pudding Mung bean pudding, may sound offputting but when you think about it, it isn't really that different from the old Anglo favourite rice pudding. Would you be prepared to try it on the family?
At long-established Minamoto Kitchoan , they have been holding their own against Piccadilly's posh chocolate shops for years. It's a serene place, with all the Japanese cakes, biscuits and jellies displayed like jewellery in elegant glass cabinets, yet it attracts a steady custom of non-Japanese customers throughout the afternoon. Among the healthy ingredients of its not-very-sweet sweets are red beans, chestnuts, sweet potato, white peaches and miso.
Struggling to squeeze in your five-a-day portions of fruit and veg? Why not skip the Hob-nobs one afternoon and explore the Japanese takes on cookies and cakes. Maybe Japan Centre's new pastry counter is a little ahead of its time. Or could the likes of zenzai and anko zenzai and anko go mainstream as people experiment more with Japanese ingredients and so-called 'superfoods'?