[This is a guest post by Jessie, who recently returned from a trip to Japan where she coached a youth girls’ basketball team (USA) in a tournament as part of a friendship/goodwill tour between the Japanese-American community in Los Angeles, CA and the the city of Nagoya, Japan.]
[Jessie on the right; another coach on the trip Lindsey on the left]
Over the years I have watched Ashley’s donut obsession grow (and I may have stoked that fire a few times…Donut Man? Anyone?). I now hunt for donuts anytime I travel to a new place, which sounds awesome and fun and lighthearted – BUT BEWARE. Donut hunts can be treacherous. I mean, what happens when you stumble across a donut shop that looks promising – only to discover you want to try THREE (or 4, or 10) flavors? Is it socially acceptable to just get a dozen, knowing full well you’ll either a) take one bite of each and toss the rest or b) eat the full dozen…by yourself…? In this guest post I’ll lay down some ground rules for conducting a solid donut hunt, set against the backdrop of a country known for weird looking and tasting food – Japan.
1. Do your homework. In the weeks leading up to this Japan trip, I visited various blogs and travel sites to research what kind of interesting/unusual/delicious/rare/famous/weird foods I should make sure to try. I sent links to people I’d be traveling with (as fair warning that I’m willing to waste both my and their yen on dubious-looking or -sounding treats). There is one site that I found both hilarious and extremely informative, http://en.rocketnews24.com/. I searched their archives and found a post on KRISPY KREME in Japan. Krispy Kreme! Japan apparently scoffed at the idea of a dozen hot glazed donuts, and took to creating gourmet flavors such as bergamot and lemon, earl grey, matcha green tea…etc…with presentation to match. Oh, and in true Japanese parfait-loving style, added ice cream, jelly, red beans, mochi, etc.
2. Keep your eyes open. Once in Japan (we stayed in the city of Nagoya for a few days before going to Hiroshima and Kyoto), it was important early on to memorize the specific train station entrance and exit on our daily commute – by we, I mean myself and three other basketball coaches. Being that we don’t speak/read/understand Japanese or the intricate subway system, the best way to not get lost was to know exactly which of many (MANY) vendors line the hallway to the correct subway exit. I carefully scrutinized each oddly named (one apparel storefront read “Nice Claup”…what is a claup?) store and lo and behold – I found a Krispy Kreme!
3. Survey and if possible, group up. I’d seen the donuts online, but it IS different to view the goods in person. I didn’t impulsively buy the donuts on the first day – not that I didn’t want to, but I knew I had to try at least 3 different flavors, and a decision like that could take time. This is where strategy comes in and it helps to recruit others to form a donut-hunting-wolfpack. Travel in groups of 3 or 4, and you’ll be covered – luckily I had a default donut-hunting-wolfpack of 4. I also took a cautious approach – day 1 I pointed the store out, day 2 I pointed out the menu, day 3 I casually mentioned the store and how we need to try the weird flavors, and finally day 4 I closed the deal. This would only work if you know you’ll pass the store daily – if the location is hard to find, you best buy that hot dough upon discovery. Really the key to success was playing up the novelty of these donut creations, and utilizing peer pressure from the group to get them on board to try different flavors.
4. Divide and conquer. Three of us were down to try the donuts, and we got three donuts – so we each got to try three flavors, splitting the cost and the calories. In full disclosure, we took a picture of the donut display and sent it to Ashley, asking for her donut expertise on which flavors to try. Then we spent a day (or two) telling one of the coaches we were going to make him try the daunting Spicy Tomato flavor. So in the end we got 3 donuts, and I assessed their success based on flavor and texture – not presentation because who cares what it looks like if it doesn’t taste good (am I right?):
-Earl Grey Milk Tea Cake: I was let down by the lack of flavor in the cake and waxy texture of the icing. I am not sure that I tasted Earl Grey, though you could see flecks of the tea leaves in the cake itself. It was a cake donut, which I typically love, but didn’t have either the crispiness of the outer shell indicative of frying or the sweet moisture of a glaze. It was not overly sweet and did not have that cloying artificial flavor…but just didn’t have a lot of flavor in general. My least favorite.
-Matcha Cookie Crunch: Using the base of the original glazed (but without the glaze), a matcha-based icing coated the top, sprinkled with what tasted like oreo crumbles and more decorative icing. The texture of the donut was good, typical of a Krispy Kreme (light, chewy, slightly flaky) – but like the Earl Grey Milk Tea Cake, there was a waxy feeling and the flavor seemed muted somehow. Maybe because it wasn’t warm? But I don’t think the cookie crumbles would work with a hot donut. While better than the earl grey one, this donut also fell short – I’d prefer a warm glazed classic Krispy Kreme.
-Spicy Tomato: Oddly this was my favorite. I suppose because it was purposely NOT sweet, but this “donut” used the Krispy Kreme dough, and had some savory seasoning sprinkled on the outer shell. It was filled with a spicy tomato sauce and cheese, and basically tasted like spicy pizza. The filling-to-dough ratio was perfect, and the taste definitely came through in the sauce. I would actually probably get this again.
So my key takeaways from this experience are:
-In Japan, get ice cream – the earl grey and green tea donuts would probably have been perfect with ice cream since they weren’t very sweet. Or just stick to the ice cream you get from the 7-11s or other convenience stores, which are way more satisfying (especially in the heat of July when we were there).
-The best pastries in Japan are at the bakeries located on the basement level of department stores (seriously). They are usually European-style and range from buttery chocolate croissants to egg custard tarts and cinnamon rolls.
-Maybe Japan doesn’t understand donuts…and should stick to their strange gelatinous desserts (that I love) or sweet red bean and mochi creations.
Thank you Jessie!!