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15 Japanese Snacks to Binge On

Cream buns, cheesecakes, loaded omelettes, choux puffs — we sample them all from these three Japanese joints. (A version of this story first appeared in Issue 1373, Feb 9, 2017.)


1. LeTAO 

#B1-K7 Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn, S238801. Tel: 8799-3551. Open daily 10am–10pm. Last orders at closing. www.letaosg.com

Cheesecake fiends, you no longer have to beg and cajole friends to lug LeTao goodies back from Japan. The popular sweet treats brand, which opened in Otaru, Hokkaido, in 1998, and also has franchises in Taiwan, Korea and Hongkong, has landed at Ion, thanks to a thirtysomething Singaporean and his Thai business partner. The takeaway kiosk stocks a small but decadent array of their most famed desserts, like their signature Double Fromage Cheesecake and Chocolate Double, which are sold both chilled and frozen. All items are flown from Hokkaido weekly.


THE LOOK: A glamorous brown and blue kiosk with glass displays on either side filled with resin models of their specialty produce to entice you.


Double Fromage Cheesecake ($28)

Made with mascarpone cheese from Lombardy, Italy, eggs, fresh cream from Hokkaido, and topped with honeyed cake crumbs, this teensy 330g cheesecake, which feeds about two people is so cottony, light and milky it’ll disappear faster than you can say, “what calories?” A soft, creamy non-bake layer lies atop a denser baked cheesecake. It’s neither too rich nor sweet, and lifted by a delicate tang. A wonderful balance of flavours and textures. 


Chocolate Double ($28)

A darker, sexier cousin of the two-layered double fromage, this 360g beauty is made with rich Spanish chocolate. The hint of bitterness from the cacao on its bottom layer cuts through the sweetness and creaminess for a more adult flavour profile and may appeal to chocolate lovers. We prefer the original version, though.


Otaru Rue Ironai Fromage Cookies ($10 for 9 pieces)

Sweet white chocolate and cream cheese (the same one used in the double fromage) sandwiched between crisp, thin slices of buttery cheese cookies. This is LeTao’s take on the classic French langue de chat (or cat’s tongue butter cookies), and it offers satisfyingly sweet, salty and tangy flavours in each bite. No wonder it’s one of the best-sellers here.


Petit Chocolate Strawberry ($12)

Tart and sweet in equal doses, these bite-sized freeze-dried Japanese strawberries coated in white chocolate and sprinkled with strawberry powder brim with bright, refreshing flavours.


Jersey Milk Roll ($19)

Not your average airy Japanese roll cake, this dense vanilla sponge is slathered with mascarpone cheese and a thick cream made with the milk of Jersey cows bred in Hokkaido, known for its high buttermilk content. It gives the cream a distinctly raw, almost gamey aroma you either love or hate. Not our fave.


Royale Montagne ($12)

Enjoy tea with your chocolate? These perfumed pyramids marry the subtle bouquet of Darjeeling tea with the boldness of cacao. An elegant, yummy pairing.

BOTTOM LINE: Though it’s pricey for the petite portions, the luxurious Double Fromage Cheesecake is worth every penny and calorie. The other exquisite desserts make lovely gifts too. 


2. Koki Tamagoyaki

#B1-54 Raffles City Shopping Centre, S179103. Open daily 10am–10pm. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/koki.tamagoyaki 

Started by two twentysomething Singaporean F&B noobs — a former banker and art director — this unique specialty tamagoyaki kiosk (“Koki” is derived from the Japanese words for “premium” and “yellow”) serves up pretty egg-cellent Japanese rolled omelettes with various savoury toppings and giant French- and Japanese-inspired cream-filled choux puffs. The pair, whose mutual love for eggs and Japanese food inspired their culinary foray, cut their teeth with pop-up stores at food fairs before finally setting up shop at the basement of Raffles City. Why choux puffs and tamagoyaki? "The custard filling in choux puffs contains quite a bit of eggs and we find this dessert in line with our focus around eggs," say the owners. They’ve spent over $100,000 to bring their dream to fruition with help from a former Japanese fine-dining chef and a hotel pastry chef, who also have shares in the biz. There are plans to open a proper sit-down restaurant, though the concept will be different, say the bosses enigmatically.

THE LOOK: A bustling, tiny open kitchen sits behind a wood-accented takeaway counter where you can watch the chefs prep both sweet and savoury grub. 


Braised Japanese Cha Shu ($9.90)

The fluffy and moist Japanese-style omelettes here are thankfully more savoury than the usual sweet ones. Each comprises eggs whisked with bonito and kelp dashi broth, soy sauce and mirin, then cooked layer by layer in a special rectangle omelette pan. This one, sliced into neat blocks and topped with flavourful chunks of pork belly that are pan-seared then braised in a sticky and sweet house-made teriyaki sauce, is yummy. The egg soaks up all that lovely gravy, intensifying its flavours. Makes for a filling meal.


Kuro Tempura Ebi ($8.70)

Each prawn quenelle, made with French cream, squid ink and eggs, then fried with squid ink tempura batter, is an explosion of umami flavours. It’s accented with a smoky barbecue mayo sauce and bonito flakes. Goes very well with the delicate flavour and texture of the tamago. If you’re feeling extra indulgent, you could add a cheese ($1.90) or mentaiko ($2.30) filling to your omelette. We prefer the cheese option ’cos, well, there’s really no better combination than eggs and cheese. The salty and slightly spicy mentaiko filling is more of an acquired taste.


Vanilla ‘Shuu’ ($4.30)

These fist-sized orbs of goodness are to die for. The choux pastry is slightly chewy in the middle and crisp on top with buttery, sugary crumbs. Bite it and be rewarded with an avalanche of heavenly, not-too-sweet custard and French whipped cream infused with Madagascar bourbon vanilla. Divine.


Black Sesame ‘Shuu’ ($4.30)

If you like your desserts packed with intense flavours, you won’t go wrong with this one. Rich custard and cream are blended with earthy Japanese black sesame paste, and the filling complements the nutty sesame seeds dotting the pastry perfectly.

BOTTOM LINE: This shop may look like a nondescript snack stand, but it serves unexpectedly good Japanese omelettes heaving with tasty toppings, as well as gorgeous choux pastry puffs.


3. Hattendo Cafe

#01-05 Tanjong Pagar Centre, S078884. Open daily. 10am–9pm weekdays; 11am–8pm weekends. Last orders at closing. www.facebook.com/HattendoSingapore

Another waistline-busting Japanese dessert vying for your dollar makes its debut at the new Tanjong Pagar Centre, with another three more popping up across the island in the next six months. This bakery chain was founded 84 years ago in Mihara, Hiroshima, and it specialises in cream buns with five flavours. Apart from buns, the month-old café also sells salads in mason jars, truffle fries, fried chicken and specially blended Itsuki coffee from Hiroshima. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try the brew as the machine was out of commission during our visit. The initially long queues have since tapered off — we didn't have to wait at all when we popped by again last week.


THE LOOK: The flagship store, the only one outside of Japan that’s not a franchise, is right above Tanjong Pagar MRT station. Simply furnished with Muji-inspired décor, the brightly lit joint seats 40 and features a glass-encased kitchen where you can watch the baker whip up “bread cake” buns with flour imported from Japan using a “secret recipe that’s a cross between cake and bread”. 


Whipped Cream ($2.50; $5 with a drink)

The filling cocooned inside the bun is made “simply from whipped cream”. It’s light and cloud-like, but the milky flavour is very subtle. Our food editor found this the best flavour of the lot, though. She says the cream — French here instead of Hokkaido like back home to keep costs lower — is lush and voluptuous. While the filling is great, the bun itself is not as fluffy as a “cake”. In fact, it’s more like a regular bun from a local bakery. However, we’re told it becomes softer when left in the fridge overnight, so er, eat it a day later?

 


Chocolate ($2.50; $5 with a drink)

This is like a pleasantly creamy chocolate ice cream. While the cocoa flavour is not very strong, it still comes through quite nicely. We suppose the focus here is on the cream rather than the embellishments.

 


Custard ($2.50; $5 with a drink)

This flavour is a best-seller in Japan and we can see why. Apparently, the custard took hundreds of attempts to reach its perfectly silky consistency and is a closely guarded secret. It’s rich and velvety, yet still light enough to not feel overwhelming. Yummy.

 


Adzuki Beans ($2.50; $5 with a drink)

This is our favourite flavour. The satiny cream is very lightly perfumed with Hokkaido-grown adzuki sweet beans, and not at all cloying like some red bean desserts can be. However, our colleague found this flavour neither here nor there.

 


Matcha ($2.50; $5 with a drink)

Fragrant, faintly bitter cream spiked with powdered green tea. It’s quite good, but could be heavier on the matcha.

BOTTOM LINE: The lovely silky cream fillings here stand out more than the middling buns that house them.

 

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