Confessions of A Sugar Lover – How Japan Ruined Me on American Sweets
The Triple Chocolate Delight cake erupted out of the plate. Molten fudge sauce flowed down the face of the chocolatey mountain. A berg of vanilla ice cream steamed and melted in the glistening dark brown river oozing across the china. My spoon mined into the vein of tiny chocolate chips. I extracted a large core sample of frosting, cake, fudge, and chocolate chips.
About to satisfy my months-long craving, my mouth watered with anticipation.
But instead of rising up with exaltation, my brow furrowed.
Too sugary I thought.
What? I looked around in confusion. This had been one of my favorite desserts. But now, having been away for months in Japan, my Triple Chocolate Delight seemed a bit… crude.
I stumbled head-long into reverse culture shock.
My early days in Japan were characterized by a bit of disappointment every time I would go to a pastry shop. The tiny temptations appeared so beautiful on their little doily covered plates. My native dining companions thrilled in devouring their treats.
But my mouth searched for a flavor that turned up absent.
One day realization slapped me across the face: blatant “sugar-ism.”
The tradition of pastry in Japan is influenced by European food craft, not U.S. dessert making.
For example, whipped cream in Japan took a while to appreciate. It’s real whipped cream… not as sweet as what we think of in the U.S. Just thick and rich and lovely with only a hint of sweetness. And you’ll find it on top of cakes, and in between layers, where we might find a creamed sugar and shortening cousin on goodies in the U.S.
Not to say there is NO sweetness. There certainly is. In abundance. Just a different KIND of sweetness… not the refined white sugar sweetness I had rotted my milk teeth on.
Instead, you’ll indulge in thick ganache. You’ll drift up on cloud-light mousses. You’ll crack through layers and layers of puff pastry. Fruit fit for fashion magazines model on top of triangle tarts. Every one of the sweets on display would be at home in the most elegant of cooking magazines.
You confront bold beauty with your eye and subtle, elegant flavors with your mouth.
Keep conscious… Be aware of flavor differences… And let your palate adapt to your travel destination. Of course, this advice goes for all of the flavors of experience you encounter while traveling. After all, isn’t it WHY we travel in the first place?
For the longest time I didn’t fully appreciate the delicate pastries in Japan. But then I realized I was accustomed to such sugary sweetness. If I opened my mind a little more to the subtlety, maybe I’d appreciate it more. Another world opened up to me.
Have I truly been “ruined” on the desserts in the U.S.A.? Well, honestly, no. When I get the chance to tuck in to the sweets in my native land, I do. It takes a bit of a mind shift sometimes. But before I know it, my taste buds are right back home.