Christmas Cake

Japan: Tokyo/ Omotesando/ Gluten-Free (Natural Cream Kitchen)

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If you have food allergies like I do, you know how daunting traveling may be, particularly when it comes to overseas travel.  But, a great man once uttered, “Nothing is impossible,” and indeed with growing food allergy awareness, traveling with food allergies is becoming much easier than it used to be.  The only caveat is that you must do your homework ahead of time, which many of us who have allergies are accustomed to doing anyway.

In this new blog post, my purpose is to introduce you to a wonderful little café located in Omotesando, which offers all natural, gluten-free items on their menu.

Natural Cream Kitchen opened in spring of 2015 and bills itself as an “additive free sweets café.” However, sweets are not the only things offered on their menu. Here you will find delicious items such as chicken and roast beef entrees, meatloaf, pasta, sandwiches, quiche and salads.  Their drinks menu includes soft drinks, herbal teas, beer and wine! They even have a brunch menu featuring oatmeal and omelets among other items!  Everything is prepared using natural ingredients, no sugar and no additives.  Their tarts, breads and cakes are created with rice flour and sweetened with amazake  (a traditional sweet, low- or non-alcohol Japanese drink made from fermented rice) and sugar beets. Their signature roll cakes come plain and in chocolate cake flavors and are available in sizes up to 50cm (19.6 in). For Christmas you can order the Christmas cake version. Oh, and did I mention their sweets sampler tower?

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You can choose to dine in the cozy café decked out in a bright and soothing décor or take your food out. There are large vases filled with white flowers, white washed tables and chairs, exposed white brick walls and a giant chandelier comprised of eating utensils.

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The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, able to answer any questions you may have regarding the menu (provided you speak Japanese.)  Even if you can’t speak Japanese, the menu has pictures of the items available so you can just point to what you would like to order.

Whether you have food allergies, are health conscious or just want to try delicious tasting foods, Natural Cream Kitchen should be on your list of places to visit when in Tokyo! The café is open Mon-Sat from 10AM-8PM, Sun & Holidays 9AM-8PM. It is easily accessible via the Meiji-Jingumae Station (Chiyoda, Fukutoshin Lines) or the Omotesando Station (Ginza, Hanzomon, Chiyoda Lines).

 

Web page:                        https://naturalcreamkitchen.com/

Location:                           GYRE B1F 5-10-1 Jingumae Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001

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Japan: Christmas Traditions

Christmas was initially introduced to Japan with the arrival of the first Europeans during the 16th century. But it was only in recent decades that the event has become widely popular, despite the fact that Christians make up only about two percent of the population. Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, therefore schools and businesses are open on December 25th. However, more and more people have taken up traditions such as decorating their homes, giving presents to friends, sending out Christmas cards and celebrating the event with a special meal.

Christmas is regarded as more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration and Christmas eve is often celebrated more than Christmas Day. Christmas eve is a romantic celebration, when couples spend time together and exchange presents. In many ways it resembles Valentine’s Day. Couples go for walks to admire the Christmas illuminations around town and have romantic meals in restaurants. It is almost impossible to book a table at a restaurant or a room at a hotel on Christmas eve.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that retailers are the most enthusiastic about Christmas. Just as the Halloween decorations were being taken down retail stores and shopping malls started putting up Christmas trees and other seasonal decorations. Signs advertising Christmas cakes also went up at bakeries, department stores and convenience stores. The traditional Japanese Christmas food is the Christmas cake, usually a sponge cake topped off with strawberries and whipped cream. A traditional Japanese holiday feast features KFC and Christmas cake! Somewhat odd for those of us who are accustomed to turkey, ham and apple pie during this time of year.

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But not everyone in Japan has a significant other to celebrate Christmas with and it is impractical to purchase an entire Christmas cake for Christmas eve. For these folks, Christmas cupcakes are available or individual slices of Christmas cake can also be purchased. If you are not particularly fond of cake or cupcakes, stores such as Krispy Kreme offer donuts festively decorated for Christmas. You can buy one or an entire box to take home and worry about your weight goals in the new year!

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Christmas wreath pastries

Christmas wreath pastries

There is also the traditional Japanese wagashi, a confectionary typically made of mochi, anko (azuki bean paste) and fruit, which is served with tea. This time of year, the wagashiya-sans feature specially crafted wagashi in Christmas shapes and themes.

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Sometimes the Japanese tend to resort to extravagance. In 2007, there was a diamond encrusted fruit cake on display in Tokyo. Dazzling with 223 small diamonds the asking price was a mere $1.65 million U.S. The cake went on sale on Christmas.

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So whether you say Merry Christmas, Happy Christmas, Meri Kurisumasu, めりーくりすますor メリークリスマス, we all agree that this is a time of celebration. And what better than to enjoy celebrating around the world and experiencing different cultures and traditions! Happy travels and happy holidays!

 

Japan: Cuisine (Japanese Sweets and Japanese Desserts)

I have heard it said that one cannot truly experience the traditions and culture of another country until they try the cuisine. Since I have been focusing on Japan recently, I thought it would be advantageous to delve into Japanese cuisine, in an effort to wet your appetites a little prior to your travels to this magnificent country. Some people like to start with dessert before proceeding to dinner, so let’s not leave the best for the last. Let’s just jump right in!

In Japan the word for sweets, okashi (お菓子), originally referred to simple fruits and nuts. It wasn’t until China acquired the knowledge from India on how to produce sugar and began trading it with Japan, that sugar became a common ingredient. This along with the popularity of tea led to the creation of wagashi (和菓子) a traditional Japanese confectionery often created in the shape of leaves, flowers, and other items in nature and served with tea. Wagashi represents Japan’s four seasons and is designed to appeal to all five senses.

Today, Japanese sweets come in many forms including taiyaki, dango, cakes, crepes, donuts, ice cream, pudding and sweet breads all with a unique Japanese style and flavor. Modern Japanese sweets have a light, delicate texture and are not overpoweringly sweet as some of our Western desserts have a tendency to be. Oftentimes, fresh fruit and whipped cream are utilized to create these desserts where the traditional wagashi relies on mochi and read bean paste.

Dango is a Japanese dumpling and sweet made from mochiko

Dango is a Japanese dumpling made from mochi

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Strolling through the various cake shops in Japan or “keekiya-sans” as they are called, I couldn’t help but notice how the cakes were so beautifully and artfully displayed in special cases, most cakes being sold by individual slices rather than as an entire cake. These keekiya-sans can be found all over Japan including train stations, food courts of various major department stores as well as up and down countless streets.

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In Japan, it is a tradition to eat cake on Christmas. Typically, these cakes are strawberry shortcakes with white whipped cream frosting with mouthwatering strawberries which represent traditional Christmas colors.

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Japan is also home to countless charming bread shops or “panya-sans.” These too can be found just about everywhere and they serve sweet breads, some of which are formed into shapes of animals or other “kawaii” cute characters targeting children. These shops are very popular and always crowded.

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Krispy Kreme Shinjiku

Krispy Kreme Shinjiku

Mister Donut Shop in Tokyo, Japan

It didn’t surprise me to learn that Japanese people have a sweet tooth and they love donuts! Mister Donut is ubiquitous in Japan and Krispy Kreme’s Shinjiku shop is very popular. Dunkin Donuts, although not as popular as Mister Donut also has a presence.

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Let’s not forget Japanese “softo cream” or soft serve ice cream. Although milk and dairy products are not originally part of the traditional Japanese diet, today ice cream is a popular treat in Japan. Japanese ice cream treats include uniquely flavored gelato, smooth and delicious soft serve ice cream, mochi ice cream, and many other creative ice cream varieties. Soft serve can come in so many flavors including wasabi, beni imo (red potato), and goma (sesame seed), my personal favorite. Of course, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry flavors are also available for the less adventurous!

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The Japanese are very influenced and receptive to Western culture and this is especially evident when it comes to French cooking and desserts. And when it comes to the crepe, Japanese love this traditional French dessert. There are many crepe shops and stands all over Japan serving up an amazing variety of sinfully sweet and fruity flavor combinations. Sometimes the crepes are cooked right in front of the customers.

Traditional wagashi

Traditional wagashi

So there you have it. A brief look into Japanese sweets and desserts. I hope I have sparked your curiosity and that you will want to give these treats a try when you visit Japan or even if you can find a Japanese sweets shop in your own area!