5 Delicious Japanese Desserts You Need To Try
Dessert isn’t the after-dinner staple in Japan as it is in the western world.
It’s only recently that Japanese restaurants have actually started offering a dessert menu at all, in some areas. Part of this could be because sugar and the concentrated sweetness of western desserts only made it to Japan around the time of World War II.
So unlike in the U.S. where people have hundreds of dessert choices just waiting for them at the supermarket check-out, the Japanese have gotten creative.
Many Japanese desserts are an interesting food experience—often unsweetened, they’re often influenced by savoury foods or traditional tea and coffee.
But don’t let that deter you. In this article, we’re unpacking a list of 5 delicious Japanese desserts to kick-start your foodie journey.
No ‘Top 5 Delicious Japanese Desserts’ list would be complete without this humble sticky rice cake. Mochi is officially the oldest processed food in Japan, having been used as part of Japanese New Year celebrations in the Heian period. The elite of Heian society chose mochi for their celebrations as its long strands were meant to symbolize long life and prosperity. Dried mochi was also believed to be good for health teeth.
Mochi is still a staple traditional food at Japanese New Year, and it can be purchased easily—and everywhere—around that time.
Mochi is the basis of many of Japan’s desserts, thanks to its versatility. It can be filled, topped, or garnished in hundreds of ways, making it easy to find the right mochi for every occasion and taste.
Kagami mochi, for example, is two balls of mochi stacked on top of each other and garnished with orange. This is placed on family altars on December 28th every year—a tradition started by the samurai.
In more non-traditional circles, mochi is the basis for a lot of foodie experimentation. Chocolate and chestnut mochi went viral earlier this year, and classics like fried chocolate mochi balls, mochi sesame balls, and mochi ice cream continue to attract hungry crowds.
Easily earning its place on the 5 Delicious Japanese Desserts list is this sensational pancake sandwich.
One of the most popular traditional Japanese sweets, dorayaki gets its name from dora—meaning gong—since that’s what it looks like. A massive hit in the Showa era (1925 – 1989), many anime fans will remember it as Doraemon’s snack of choice.
Fortunately for Doraemon—and the rest of us—this adorable and addictive snack has made a welcome comeback.
The actual pancake batter used in dorayaki is sweetened with honey or mirin—sometimes even soy sauce—before two small, fluffy pancakes are baked. These are then glued together with a sweet red bean paste, and eaten like a dessert waffle.
It doesn’t have to be filled with red bean paste, though. Ever resourceful, some vendors fill their dorayaki with matcha paste, chestnut cream, chestnut cream and chocolate, custard, or a devilish concoction of chocolate, strawberry, and whipped cream.
Anmitsu is typically a summer dessert, popular on hot days. This pretty, elegant dessert combines kanten jelly, anko (the sweet red bean paste so popular in our last dessert) and summer fruits. Peaches and oranged are the most popular, but berries, melon, sliced grapes, and pineapple are some other refreshing options selling out on the streets of Japan.
As a classic Japanese favorite, this dessert used traditional kanten jelly—usually referred to internationally as agar agar. This vegan version of gelatin is made from red algae.
Anmitsu makes our list of the best 5 delicious Japanese desserts because of its simplicity. Despite all the different textures—from the firm agar agar to the delicate fruits—it works together in harmony. As with most foods in the Japanese culinary world, harmony is everything.
This is a quick and straightforward dessert to make, too. It is easy to prepare, uses ingredients which are easy to find in any Japanese food market, and it is always a guaranteed success for the local crowd.
Many tourists are shocked to hear that crepes are a Japanese dessert staple.
This fine, light pancakes may have started life in France, but the millions of Japanese people enjoying them every year have definitely put a new twist on an old classic.
In Japan, crepes are ultra-popular. Of course, the locals have to go the extra mile in how we serve them—but it’s all part of the fun.
In most major Japanese cities, creperies—or just plain crepe shops—are dotted around all the main streets. Mobile crepe carts also sell their wares.
And nowhere are Japanese crepes more popular than in iconic Harajuku. In the mid-1970s, the funky Harajuku district was already doing its own thing. And when crepes arrived in Japan, the Harajuku trendsetters did what they do best—rebelled. Instead of sitting down to eat their dainty desserts with a knife and fork, they rolled them up and ate them like ice cream cones.
The trend was born. To this day, Japanese people can be seen tucking into a crepe on the go. Not only are we eating it rolled into a cone, though. We’re also filling it with any one of a hundred—maybe a thousand—different fillings. That’s not an exaggeration, either: some Harajuku vendors claim to have 100 different filling combos on their menu.
Crepes are a quick and delicious dessert to grab on the run. Often wrapped in paper, and offered with a spoon in case you need a little extra help with the fillings—these are the dessert to have as you sit on a park bench watching the world go by.
Last on our ‘5 Delicious Japanese Desserts’ list is something that was popularized back in the 1960s: coffee jelly.
This cold, quivery dessert uses sweetened black coffee and gelatin for a simple, pretty addictive after-dinner treat. It’s not too sweet, usually, but the beauty of this dessert is that you can sweeten it to your tastes when you mix it up.
This is a light dessert for the end of a meal, although if you’re sensitive to caffeine you may want to reserve this as a lunchtime treat.
Coffee jelly was born in a Japanese coffee shop as a cute gimmick, but it quickly took hold. Now popular across Japan, it blends the delicious, rich taste of sweet coffee with the simplicity of jelly. Since it’s served cold, it’s also an ideal summer treat.
If you want to try coffee jelly for yourself, save your search for summer. Many traditional cake shops sell the sweet treat during the hotter months, but don’t get the demand when the temperatures drop. You’re likely to find Coffee Jelly of the instant variety at local convenience stores and supermarkets, but it may just be easier—and tastier—to make it yourself.
Of all the amazing options on this 5 delicious Japanese desserts list, coffee jelly would have to be the most simple to make.
Brew some strong coffee—espresso works wonders. Dissolve the gelatin and pour the liquid into a shallow dish or container to set. Once set, cut the jelly into cubes (optional, of course) and serve with whipped cream. For an ultra-sweet hit, you could also try the Vietnamese-inspired trend of serving it with condensed milk.
One more bite…
Ready to experiment with some of Japan’s most delicious desserts. Be brave—there are some awesome discoveries to be made out there.