Wednesday, October 31, 2007


A "stick" cheesecake from a convenience store. It looks better than it tastes though it certainly is a testimonial to controlled portion sizes.

Almost all foreign people living in Japan will eventually become homesick for their favorite indigenous foods. While some people see having a taste for non-Japanese food as wasting the opportunity to become immersed in Japanese food culture and thoroughly exploring it and appreciating it, I believe that it allows you to learn about other aspects of Japanese food culture. That is the side which has embraced foreign food but modified it to suit Japanese tastes.

Unless you have a very regimented view of food culture, Japanese food isn't limited to dishes that originated in Japan. "Curry rice" as it is commonly prepared by schools, housewives, restaurants, and fast food places is just as Japanese as sushi even if the name sounds vaguely Indian. You're not likely to find it prepared in the same fashion in other countries and the way in which curry has been modified to appeal to the average Japanese person is just as much a reflection Japanese preferences as other more traditional foods. In fact, since people already know how such dishes are prepared in their own culture, the differences are more striking as a reflection of differing tastes and desires.

For me, the exploration of western food has included finding good cheesecake since it's my favorite dessert. On the plus side, there is cheesecake of all types all over the place in Japan. It's sufficiently popular that it's carried in almost all convenience stores as well as markets and cake shops. It would be nearly impossible to sample all the variations. On the minus side, cheesecake in Japan is generally sparse on the "cheese" portion with a few exceptions.

Cheesecake is divided into two general types in Japan. One is "baked" (ベイクト・チーズケーキ) and the other is "rare" (レア・チーズケーキ) though cakes of one type or the other aren't always prepared in the same way. Among "rare "cheesecakes in particular, there is a lot of variation. Some of them are a little like New York-style cheesecake though most are like a pale imitation because of a less concentrated amount of cream and cream cheese. Others are like French-style cheesecake and are light and mixed with gelatin. Others seem incredibly "eggy" for a "rare". The "stick" of cheesecake pictured at the top of this post was a rare one and fit into that category. The crust was soggy and had little cream cheese flavor.

The "baked" cakes are generally pretty rubbery or spongy (again, probably because of not enough cream cheese to make it creamy) and covered with a slick film of some sort of sweet glaze. Since I'm not a big fan of baked cheesecakes, I haven't tried that many but Cozy Corner makes a pretty decent one which has a better texture than most.

The "rare" kind is the variety I favor and I'm constantly disappointed with the lack of tangy flavor in them which I associate with cheesecake. I believe this is due to the fact that cream cheese is rather expensive in Japan. In most markets, the average 200 gram (7 oz.) box is about 370 yen. If you compare this to the price of monster-size Costco boxes imported from New Zealand which are 738 yen for 1 kg. (2.2 lbs.), you can see where avoiding using too much cream cheese in your cakes would be a great cost saver.

Of course, it could also be that cheesecake has been modified to suit Japanese preferences for less dense cakes and that the sort that is commonly sold in the U.S. is too heavy for them. It's possible that the variations in cheesecake which tend to result in my being generally displeased with most of them stems from my limited tastes rather than any short-comings on the part of preparers in Japan, though obviously you have to consider the source. The cheesecake that you get at 7-11 isn't going to measure up to what you get at a confectioner.


Luis said...

The most common and dependable good cheesecake in Japan would be Starbucks' New York cheesecake. A store near where Sachi and I live used to carry good cheesecake, but they discontinued it a few weeks after we discovered it. As usual.

Shari said...

I had meant to mention in this post that the best cheesecake in Japan is from the cake shop Topps (which is in department stores - Seibu in Ikebukuro, Keio in Shinjuku to name a few).

I don't think we've ever noticed cheesecake at Starbucks but I'll admit that we don't tend to look very carefully at the sweets there so much these days. We'll give it a try some time. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

are there any cheesecake factory branch in japan?