Hello! It’s Emeline from France!
In my last article, I talked about wagashi but today I want to focus on western-style sweets, yōgashi. At first, I thought yōgashi was just the name used for western desserts sold in Japan, but they are different: they are western-like desserts adapted to suit Japanese people’s taste.
In France, desserts are not only a specialty but also a part of French culture. When I came to Japan and tried yōgashi for the first time, it surprised me to see how different they were from what I was used to.
Mont Blanc? An Almost Unknown Dessert in France!
In Japan, when you think about yōgashi, you automatically think about Mont Blanc. You might be surprised to find out this cake is almost completely unheard of in France. It was apparently first created in Italy, came to France in the 17th century, and became a traditional French dessert.
However, even though some pâtissiers have been trying to bring it back, it is not a common find. I lived for 24 years in France and I never ate it or even saw it in a bakery.
In France, if we hear we’re going to eat “Mont Blanc” a lot of us will think of a totally different thing. Rather than thinking about this cake, a lot of French people will probably think of the cream dessert brand that has the same name. These desserts come in a lot of different flavors and this brand is rather old, so almost every French person knows about it. When I first came to Japan and heard so many people talk about “Mont Blanc”, I thought they were talking about this and was confused about why it was so popular here. I eventually found out they were talking about the cake and thought it was funny to have to go on the other side of the planet to discover a traditional dessert from my own country!
What about Strawberry Shortcake?
Another popular yōgashi is the strawberry shortcake. A lot of western countries might have their own version of a strawberry shortcake. In France, we call it a Fraisier which means “strawberry plant”.
I love fruit so when I eat cake, I tend to order something with a lot of fruit in it. One day, I went out to eat cake with a Japanese friend and decided to try the famous strawberry shortcake. I was excited to be able to eat a lot of strawberries but when the cake finally came, I was quite disappointed. There were almost no strawberries and it only tasted like whipped cream. When I told my friend that, she explained to me this was normal and how strawberry shortcake is supposed to be.
It is quite different from the French fraisier. First of all, in fraisier there is mousseline cream instead of whipped cream, which has a strong vanilla flavor and is quite close to pastry cream. This cream is a little bit sweet and on the heavy side, but there are usually more strawberries than cream in fraisier, which makes the balance between the sweetness of the cream and the tartness of the strawberries just right.
In Japan, there are a lot of desserts that are different from the ones you can eat in France. Another example is the parfait. In Japan, a parfait consists of layers of ice cream and different toppings, which are served in a tall glass. In France, a parfait is a frozen dessert made from egg yolks, sugar, and whipped cream. Traditionally, it is coffee-flavored, but nowadays you can find a lot of different flavors.
It is always surprising to find out that something you know from your home country is totally different abroad, even if the same word is used for both! That is one of the pleasures of traveling all around the world!
Crepes, Symbolic French Sweets
I am not sure if we can consider crepes yōgashi, but the ones we can find in Japan are different than the ones we can eat in France. In France, we eat a lot of crepes and if you are walking around the city you can easily find a place that sells some. It is a symbol of French sweets, which is why I was so surprised to see how different they are here.
When I first came to Japan and walked in front of a crepe shop, I was surprised to see how many different varieties there were. There are so many fillings to choose from and you can put as much as you want inside one crepe!
In France, you can usually only choose one or two things to put inside your crepe, and the number of possibilities is limited. Most of the time, you must choose between, chocolate hazelnut spread, jam, sugar, chestnut spread, and whipped cream. You can find places that sell crepes with more things inside and with more filling choices but usually, we prefer putting fewer things inside our crepes so we can enjoy the taste of the crepe itself.
In Japan, it is different. You have a large choice of things you can put inside your crepe, from fruits or whipped cream to pieces of cake! The crepe has a role similar to an ice cream cone, where it just holds all the different things you put inside.
French and Japanese crepes are so different it is difficult to compare them. If you want to savor the crepe itself, the French way of eating it may be better for you, but if you want to eat sweet things and get quite full with only one crepe, I recommend the Japanese way.
Wagashi and yōgashi are both different from French desserts, but I am glad I could eat new things and discover things about my country by coming to Japan.
In Kashiwa, there are a lot of cafés and shops that sell sweets, so it’s easy to try a lot of new things and discover new flavors. If you want to have a sweet break in Kashiwa, you can come to the information center and get our Cafés and Sweets map (only in Japanese)! See you there!