Born in Tokyo and raised in New York, Shigeki Abe has always enjoyed the best of both worlds. As a child, his time spent exploring Japan and discovering the county's specialty foods was so sweet that it led to a deep love of Japanese treats, many of which can't be found outside Japan. Fast forward to present day: Abe is preparing to launch Snakku, a Japanese snack subscription service and one of our 13 Best Box Subscriptions for Travelers. He filled us in on the Japanese snacks and the Tokyo shops that inspired his new endeavor.
5 Chome-2-23 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; +81-03-6427-4666
One especially warm afternoon, I was walking around the city in desperate need of something to cool. I stopped in at Glaciel and was amazed to see a beautiful assortment of individual-size cakes made with a combination of natural ice cream and refreshing sorbet. I peruse the selection on the first floor (it's hard to choose just one) or grab a seat at the charming cafe on the second floor.
5 Chome-11-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; +81-03-6427-3334
One of my favorite neighborhoods to get lost in is Harajuku, a district in Shibuya with many boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. I always stop by Number Sugar, a caramel store with a built-in factory. They take extreme care and pride in the quality of their candy, which is made by hand in small batches using top ingredients with no preservatives or additives. They also do a really nice job with the simple black and white packaging.
Rusk is a type of snack you absolutely must try when you're in Japan (it's my favorite). Twice-baked baguette slices are topped with sugar, cream, or frosting. While I'm not a big fan of biscotti, Japan has perfected the art of making dried bread into a piece of heaven. You'll find this snack at many different stores, but Tokyo Rusk was one of the first. They now have 18 shops throughout Japan. My favorites include the original sugar rusk and the floral-flavored sakura rusk, which is only available during cherry blossom season.
1-19 Kanda-Sudacho, Chiyoda-ku; +81-03-3251-2328
People often ask where to get classic Japanese snacks, and I always point them here. If there's one place to experience old Japan, Takemura is it. The store is as traditional as you can get. It was opened in 1930, managed to weather the war intact, and is still serving the city's best treats. Traditional Japanese sweets don't use dairy or wheat and contain very little sugar. Instead, they're made with sweet red beans, kanten jelly (derived from seaweed), and mochi. At Takemura, I like anmitsu, a traditional parfait made with kanten, and kuzumochi, a chilled mochi topped with kinako (roasted soybean flour).
The University of Tokyo, Daiwa Ubiquitous Research Building, 1F, 7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku; +81-03-5802-5577
Snacks made with warabi are extremely popular during the summer because they have a cool and refreshing taste. Warabi, also known as bracken, is a type of fern and its starch is used to make a variety of snacks. Kuriyakashi Kurogi is known for their mastery of warabi snacks as well as other traditional Japanese treats like bean cake.
Torigae 1-15-1, Taito-ku.
Along an alley in the historic factory part of Tokyo are a dozen small shops that date back to the 1940s. Minatoya is a local secret that sells the most delicious Japanese shaved ice. Customize yours with different types of syrup (green tea is my favorite) and toppings (fruits, almond jelly, and mochi are the best!). Just don't tell anyone I sent you.
Nihonbashi First Building 1F, 1-2-19 Nihonbashi Chuo-ku; +81-03-3271-9880
Dorayaki is another staple of Japanese snacking. It consists of sweetened azuki red bean paste sandwiched between two sweet pancakes. You can find these all over, but the original comes from Usagi-ya. They've been around since 1914, and while the storefront has been modernized, the recipe and authenticity have stayed the same.
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