(EDITORS NOTE: Snackivanting highlights common snack manufacturers in different international locations.)
I’m penning this whereas sitting on a aircraft heading to the US from Tokyo. Under me within the maintain is a big suitcase with a neon pink identify tag. Inside is a stack of packing containers containing rows of yellow cupcakes, individually wrapped in cellophane. No, not Twinkies. They’re Bananas from TokyoTokyo’s iconic gourmand memento.
Japan has a gift-giving custom known as omiyage, journey souvenirs given to associates, household or colleagues again residence. The most well-liked are meals presents. For those who’ve ever introduced a field of saltwater taffy from the seashore to the folks within the workplace, you’ve got given omiyage.
Omiyage is so frequent (and crucial) in Japanese tradition that each airport and main practice station has at the least one retailer promoting a range from meals presents – from Equipment Kats with regional flavors to packing containers of sweets or muffins meticulously wrapped in thick paper adorned with flowers and colourful patterns. I’m mesmerized by their magnificence and frozen in indecision on the infinite choices. Omiyage are sometimes distinctive to town or prefecture they’re offered in, so you might not see them on the subsequent cease in your journey.
One meals giveaway stands out from the remaining, for my part (I am not the one one, judging by their recognition) – Tokyo Bananas. On my first journey to Tokyo in 2014, I stored seeing kiosks promoting them, every with a line of shoppers that drove me previous. Lastly, I gave in to curiosity and acquired a single cake. I used to be on the obsession practice.
WHAT ARE TOKYO BANANAS?
Tokyo Banana’s sponge cake is moist, delicate, and chewy (cease the hate for that phrase — it is a correct cake), and the banana custard filling is silky easy and clearly made with actual bananas. That is all there’s to it, however the finish product is bigger than the sum of its elements. Tokyo Bananas are alternate actuality Twinkies – refined, genuine, and with an impending expiration date (extra on that later).
Tokyo bananas had been launched in 1991 and are the official omiyage of Tokyo. (It is unclear who endorses this title, however I will settle for it at face worth.) They might have been the primary omiyage to have their metropolis included within the identify. They grew in recognition, and seasonal and limited-edition flavors had been added to the road, together with lemon, caramel, yogurt, maple, sakura, latte, and chocolate. Every encompasses a completely different sample baked into the muffins, similar to zebra stripes, giraffe and leopard spots, otters, bears and flowers. A brand new gluten-free model comprised of rice flour is a novelty.
Tokyo Banana additionally collaborated to create Mickey Mouse-themed Tokyo Bananas (which had been accessible at Tokyo Disneyland), in addition to Doraemon, Minions, and Pokemon characters. In addition they was completely different meals carriers. There are cookies, pastries, cheesecakes, Tokyo Banana Equipment Kats, and final 12 months McDonald’s Japan launched Tokyo-style banana-flavored soft-serve waffle cones.
The 2020 COVID pandemic and ensuing journey restrictions have dealt a extreme blow to the banana sector, so for the primary time they’ve been rolled out to shops throughout the nation.
BANANA WORLD IN TOKYO
In December 2022, Tokyo Banana World opened – a flagship retailer in Tokyo Station, a significant rail hub with a big buying space. A month later, I used to be there, stocking up on packing containers of my beloved muffins, ogling cookies and associated pastries, and dodging the thick throngs of individuals doing the identical to take the subway and trains to excessive velocity (shinkansen). The placement of the checkouts and the road of shoppers made it tough to maneuver across the retailer, however I used to be devoted.
I had heard that the shop additionally had two goodies that might solely be bought there (about $2.50 every). Each are heat, freshly made donuts. (STOP THAT.)
The primary was a savory product briefly launched in 2002 – Legendary Curry Bread, which is principally a savory donut full of beef, pork, onions, heavy cream, and mashed banana. Curry bread is a favourite Japanese dish, however bananas are often not on the ingredient checklist. Sorry I did not do that one, primarily as a result of we had simply had lunch and I used to be firmly in dessert mode.
The shop’s second unique—the crimson bean paste and cream donut—was based mostly on the Japanese donuts with the addition of – you guessed it – banana. The one I ate, heated to temperatures of molten magma, was essentially the most beautiful ache I’ve ever felt. The outer casing was crispy because of a fiancee protecting, which I consider is a Japanese translation of sheet, crumbled dry pancakes. The dough beneath the fiantine was delicate however nonetheless retained its construction (I am unable to stand baked items that return to dough the second you contact them).
Inside, the crimson bean paste hit me first…and burned a layer of palate pores and skin. Now crimson bean paste – I am torn on this staple of Asian desserts. Over time, I’ve grown to love sweeter concoctions, however I am not at all times a fan of earthier variations. This donut had presumably the very best crimson bean paste I’ve ever tasted. It was reasonably candy and had loads of taste, however as soon as the attractive milky banana creme was registered, the crimson bean settled into an equal partnership. I barely croaked, “It is…so…scorching…” earlier than entering into for an additional chunk. They go on my checklist of the very best donuts on this planet, proper beneath by Britt donuts by the seashore in North Carolina.
After wolfing down the contemporary donut, I stuffed a basket with eight (sure) packing containers of Tokyo bananas and headed again to New York.
HOW TO BUY TOKYO BANANA IN THE USA?
I came upon final 12 months that there at the moment are (unofficial) methods to get the Tokyo Banana within the US. Yamibuy, a big on-line provider of Asian meals and different merchandise, hosts third-party sellers who will ship Tokyo Banana packing containers to my (and presumably your) grasping arms, with a couple of caveats.
First, they value much more. A field of eight Unique Taste Tokyo Bananas value me 1,166 Japanese yen in Tokyo (about $8.96 at as we speak’s charges). The identical field by way of third-party sellers on Yamibuy prices US$21.00 plus transport. The opposite caveat is shelf life. The expiration dates printed on the field are roughly 1-2 weeks from date of buy. Third-party purchases will doubtless be close to or past expiration dates, which isn’t really useful. However I’ve eaten many TBs effectively previous their greatest earlier than dates (generally over a month), they usually had been nonetheless tasty. Not fairly like those I simply introduced again from the supply, however not unhealthy! (Determined grasping resort to determined measures.)
Some sellers promote by way of Amazon, however in my expertise these have been much more costly and extra of an expiration date gamble. Additionally verify native shops that promote Asian snacks and sweets. Generally they seem there. And, in fact, pressure everybody who goes to Japan to deliver you again some from their travels.
And I reside in hope that in the future I can jump over to Grand Central and purchase a field of Tokyo’s signature treats.
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