You know you’re in the right city when you can just randomly stumble across a place that’s this delicious.
How delicious, you ask? Extremely delicious.
I wasn’t even sure what I was ordering. I held up two fingers (my brother is here on this leg of the trip, so I’m ordering for two), just assuming I’d wind up with waffles. He asked “mango pancake?” I nodded, and we were off to the races.
Everything about this was shockingly good — from the fresh and fluffy pancake, to the satisfyingly tart sauce, to the chunks of absolutely perfect mango. The very sweet, creamy mango works great with the pancake, with the slightly sour sauce cutting the sweetness from the fruit.
I wish I knew what this place was called, but trust me — if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong, just wander around until you find it. It’s totally worth it.
I was walking down the Sanjo-kai Shotengai Shopping Arcade (which is kind of like a smaller version of the Nishiki Market) when I saw this stand selling creme brulee doughnuts. I literally did a double take. I can’t say no to a creme brulee doughnut. I’m not a monster. So obviously I bought one.
The proprietor actually spoke perfect English, and he asked me if I was planning on eating the doughnut right away. Well, obviously. What, am I going to walk around with a creme brulee doughnut and not eat it immediately? Again, I’m not a monster.
So he told me he’d make me a fresh one, which was pretty much the best thing anyone has said to me in a long, long time. He went into the back, and a couple of minutes later he came out with a sugar-topped doughnnut that he torched right in front of me.
A few minutes later (as much as I wanted to eat it immediately, the idea of getting scalding hot sugar stuck to my face wasn’t particularly appealing), it was ready to eat.
It was just as good as I was hoping. First of all, it was a cake doughnut, and: yeah. Correct. Cake doughnuts are clearly superior to raised doughnuts. That’s just a fact.
The crispy, crackly topping was absolutely perfect, and the filling was creamy and delicious (though a more of a pronounced custardy flavour would have been nice). Plus, the doughnut itself was still warm and fresh. Even if it wasn’t that great (and it was that great), this alone would have made it fairly delightful.
So there I am, just walking around in Tokyo and minding my own business, and wham. Attacked by crazy deliciousness, completely out of nowhere.
Which is to say that I was hungry and wanted a snack, so I stopped by Melon Pan Kyuei, a bakery in the Tsukishima area of Tokyo. Most of the time, if I’m eating somewhere, it’s because I’ve looked it up and heard that it’s supposed to be good. This was a completely random drop-in. I’d never even heard of a melon pan, which is kind of like a Chinese-style pineapple bun, but a billion times better.
Oh man, this thing. It was still warm from the oven, which is always delightful, obviously. It’s got a crispy, sugary exterior that’s made all the more crispy and amazing thanks to those deep ridges, and the interior is fluffy and light as air. The inside is kind of like the lightest, fluffiest slice of white bread that you’ve ever had — it’s not all that sweet, but that’s where the crispy, crunchy, amazing exterior comes in.
I figured this was going to be more like a pineapple bun, so I wasn’t expecting much — it was actually kind of shocking how good this was. It was an unexpected sucker punch of amazingness.
One of those things that’s huge in Asia and virtually unheard of in the west is putting beans in desserts. It’s a little bit off-putting at first, but then you quickly realize it’s delicious and wonder why you haven’t spent your whole life eating beany sweets.
These little bean-filled, fish-shaped cakes are particularly popular, and with good reason. And this place (this was a random discovery and the sign was all in Japanese, so I have no idea what it’s called) was particularly good.
It was warm and fresh, with a generous amount of sweet bean filling encased in a subtly sweet, pancake-like exterior. This particular place had a bit of extra cake around the edges (it’s usually just the fish) — this is actually kind of ingenious, because the extra part is nice and crispy, which contrasts nicely with the cake and the beans. It’s really good.
There was a stand near Yoyogi Park selling what they called baby castella (castella being a type of cake popular in Japan). You can see the lady piping in some fresh batter into the moulds.
I’m sure there are people out there who can say no to hot, fresh little balls of cake. I’m not one of those people. I ordered a dozen.
(And no, there aren’t a dozen of them in that photo. I was so excited to eat these that I just immediately laid into them; it was only after eating a few that I remembered I should probably take a picture.)
These were really simple, but really good. They were kind of like sweet little pancake balls. They were hot and fresh, with a very lightly crispy exterior and a fluffy, chewy interior.
It was a sad, sad day when the Beard Papa in the Pacific Mall (which was the only Beard Papa in Canada outside of Vancouver) shut down.
Tragically, I discovered this by actually going to the Pacific Mall to pick up some Beard Papa, only to find that the spot where it used to be was completely ripped apart (I think they were turning it another Chinese restaurant). There was nothing left but a hollowed-out husk filled with unused equipment and shattered dreams. It was heartbreaking.
Well, Japan is the home of Beard Papa, and it is just as glorious as I remembered.
No — more glorious.
They sell cream puffs, only the best cream puffs you’ve ever had. They fill them to order, which is absolutely ingenious because it keeps the pastry delightfully crisp. It’s filled with a rich, creamy custard which contrasts perfectly with the crispy, buttery pastry. It’s so damn good.
Who wants to invest in a Beard Papa franchise with me?
Apple pie purists would probably scoff at it, but the pie at a cafe called Winkel 43 in Amsterdam is pretty damn good.
It’s actually kind of like a cross between an apple cake and an apple pie. The crust — which is cakey and shortbready — is nothing like a typical pie shell. It’s dense and buttery, and it compliments the more familiar apple pie filling really well.
The filling is great too — the apples were nice and tender (apple pies with crunchy apples are where joy goes to die, and if you prefer it that way you’re wrong about apple pie and wrong about the way you live your life), and the flavour was right where it should be. It’s sweet, with just a little bit of tartness to balance it out.
Topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream, it’s definitely one of the more memorable slices of pie I’ve had in a while.
I was already a pretty big fan of the stroopwafels you can get back home — the round, thin discs of crispy, chewy, caramel-filled waffles that usually come in a cellophane-wrapped pile of five or six. They’re delicious.
But my stroopwafel love has been kicked to the next level, because I just had a freshly-made one in Amsterdam, and it was everything. It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long, long time.
It’s no surprise that it’s great. It’s basically a thin, slightly chewy and slightly crispy waffle encasing a very generous slathering of rich, gooey caramel. When the guy gave it to me he warned me that I need to keep it horizontal as much as I could, because the caramel would leak out, and yeah. There’s a lot of caramel in there. It’s ridiculous.
It’s so good.
You’d think it would be too sweet, but the pastry does a really great job of counterbalancing the sticky caramel. And the caramel is so good — sometimes caramel can basically just taste like gooey sugar, but the caramel here has an addictively rich flavour. It’s perfect.
As much as I liked the bagged version, I don’t know if I can ever go back. Comparing fresh to bagged is like comparing Chips Ahoy to a freshly-baked homemade chocolate chip cookie. They’re almost not even the same thing.
In case you haven’t been following Crispygate (i.e. the most important story of 2017), you can catch up here and here. Basically, the doughnut shop Aungier Danger served me a doughnut with a crispy exterior, and I proceeded to spend way too much time thinking about it.
After concluding that no, the Irish do not like their doughnuts crispy, I figured the best way to close the book on this thing would be to go to a different Aungier Danger location, try a doughnut, and see if it’s crispy.
So that’s what I did. I got the HoneyFoam doughnut, which is filled with “honeycomb infused foam.” A couple of things:
- The doughnut was not crispy. This officially closes the book on Crispygate. As I suspected, this must have just been a frying mishap.
- Holy crap, the doughnut was so damn good. The “foam” actually tasted like a super fluffy buttercream; between its perfect, rich texture and its deliciously subtle honey flavour, it might have been the best doughnut filling I’ve ever had. And the doughnut itself was great, with an amazing balance of lightness and chewiness. So good.
You’ll recall that a few days ago, I posted about the doughnut I ate at Aungier Danger, which had a bizarrely crispy exterior. I wondered: was that supposed to be crispy? Was the oil just at the wrong temperature? Or do Irish people like their doughnuts crispy?
Clearly, this could be my Watergate moment. Are Irish doughnuts crispy? The world needs to know about this. I’ve gotta blow the lid off of this thing.
So I went and ate a couple more doughnuts, obviously.
The first one was from a place called The Rolling Donut. I got the salted caramel pistachio doughnut, which was pretty good — pistachios turn out to be a surprisingly good compliment to the slightly salty, sticky caramel. The doughnut itself was a little bit too dense, but otherwise not bad. More importantly: not crispy. Not even a little bit.
On to the next one. I got the Ferrero Rocher doughnut from a bakery called Krust, which was kind of ingenious in that it looks like a standard ring doughnut, but it’s been injected with Nutella at multiple points along the circle.
Like the other doughnut, it was good but not great, and like the other doughnut, it wasn’t crispy.
So there you have it: the Irish people don’t eat crispy doughnuts. Aungier Danger just make them that way for some reason. Case closed.