I'm baaaaaack! Minna donokurai watashi no koto suki? Bwha! ^_^
You know, people sometimes ask me, "Miss Kitty Kanagawa, what is it about Asia's strong fascination for the Western world?" And then I throw my hands in the air and proclaim "the grass is greener!!!" As much as the people here love anime, sake, Japanese horror and kung fu movies, it's no surprise that people in Asia have a romantic view of Western civilization. Hey, who doesn't think Jason Statham is awesome, right? Mmm. Hee! Although this "Western-sanity" has sometimes gone overboard, I, for one, love the meshing of Western culture! Why? Because it's led to...dum da da-da da da daaaaa!...a whole new genre of Asian desserts!!!
This concept of Asian desserts is unique in that they are the Eastern interpretations of what their original counterparts should be! Yep! Necessity may be the mother of all invention, but stereotypes are the crazy uncle! Throughout Asia there are plenty of dessert shops that specialize in "Western" desserts, only to find that they've stumbled upon something totally original! In fact, the Western concept of dessert is far different than the traditional East where sweets are celebrated on special occasions, not for purposes of delicacy. But Asia has quickly adapted and today's Asian desserts are far more into the realm of "Eastern Fusion" than they are Asian foods! What are some of these special new desserts?
Minna ga wakaru you ni ganbatte oshiemasu!
- The French Inspirations of Vietnamese Coffee Houses -
Let's start with Vietnam!
Go to any Vietnamese restaurant and you'll see a dessert menu filled with special Vietnamese coffee, baguettes and other French-influenced items. More than any Asian country in the world, coffee is a big part of Vietnamese culture. That's because 19th-century French colonization has given Vietnamese culture a taste for flair! All around Vietnam communities, came about the existance of the Vietnamese coffee shop. There you'll find original drinks like Ca Phe Sua Da (I can't pronounce it, so I just say "cafe soda!" Hee.), where customers essentially get their own little coffee set and create a milky iced coffee! Of course, the reason why people go to Vietnamese coffee houses if for the risque experiences! Haha! These are topics for another article someday (hmmm!), but there's no doubt that the French imprint on Vietnamese culture is strong is in coffee houses.
Ca Phe Sua Da may be the most popular Western-influenced drink in Vietnam, but it certainly isn't the only one. Nope! Not by a long shot! One of my favorites happen to be Soda Sua Hot Ga (again, because I can't pronounce it, I say it as "Soda Hot Dog!"). It's so unique, I almost freaked out the first time I had it! Much like Ca Phe Sua Da, the drink usually comes with the raw ingredients themselves. These ingredients are an iced cup, a raw egg, sweetened milk and club soda! How can drinking raw egg taste so good?!! Sono shinpi-tekina!!! ^_^ Other popular modernly Western-influenced drinks in Vietnamese culture are Ca Phe Sua Nong (the hot version of Ca Phe Sua Da), Tra Nong (a hot powdered green tea) and Soda Chanh (a club soda and lime juice mix). Which ones are better than the other are all determined by your own preferences! Yeeeeep!
Of course, we couldn't finish talking about French inspiration without mentioning the ever popular beignets and baguettes! The popularity of beignets is actually a late bloomer in the Vietnamese scene. Why's that? Because the combination of large Vietnamese communities in the Louisiana area and its French roots helped revive a Vietnamese twist to the sweet pastry! So whether or not you're in Vietnam or Louisiana or Little Saigon in my hometown of LA, enjoy the presence of French-inspired Vietnamese coffee houses with their Asian interpretations of European treats (and of course, their bikini-clad waitresses)! Guys, let's stop slobbering and move on, shall we? Hee!
- Bakeries Are New! -
When we hear the word bakery, it seems normal to us, but over in Asia, the existance of bakeries have only been commonplace in the past two generations (50 years)! Once again, post-colonization influences played a role in changing the perception of breakfast to cultures foreign to the concept of sweets as luxury. In China, the idea of the western bakery arrived from then-British occupied Hong Kong and independent Taiwan. Although the bakeries resemble the ones familiar in our part of the world, Chinese and Taiwanese bakeries use a lot less sugar and butter, with softer bread than their European and American counterparts! Similar "Western" bakeries are now commonly found in other Asian countries like Korea and Japan, where the cakes sizes are much smaller, but the detail to art is exquiste!
Surprised that baked goods in Asia have only been around 50 years? Watashi mo okonatta! All the things I always thought were there, were, in fact, relatively new inventions in modern history! Consider dim sum egg tarts, pineapple buns, raisin twist buns...all of these are simple reinterpretations of European classics! Can you imagine dim sum without egg tarts? For most of its history, dim sum didn't have egg tarts!
What about actual European delicacies that remained intact? Let's take, for example, the Japanese cheesecake. Why is it different and unique among Western cheesecakes? Watashi wa anata ga tazuneta shiawase! The Japanese cheesecake is so light and near sugarless that it's taste becomes far different than the cheesecakes we are all familiar with. They have no crust, which reduces the amount of fat by a lot. After eating a Japanese cheesecake you'll be missing a familiar feeling...the feeling of sleepiness! In fact, it tastes like a cross between a cheesecake and a spongecake!
- The Chinese Invented Ice Cream!!! -
You may have noticed by now the explosion of Asian ice cream shops with their own flavors in ice cream. But wait! Didn't the Chinese invent ice cream? Yes they did!!! In fact, ancient Chinese emperors in the 3rd century created ice cream but kept it as a secret delicacy which wasn't revealed until the 9th century. What I wouldn't give to taste what that ice cream was like! Was the first flavor vanilla??! Mmm. Many centuries later, Marco Polo brought ice cream to Italy and France where it was served generously in royal courts and eventually enjoyed by common citizens into the Industrial Revolution of the late 19th century!
Meaaaaaaaaaaaaanwhile, back in Asia...
...everyone forgot about ice cream! The emporers has long kept it such a secret that, even when switching dynasties, the concept had long since been removed from the Eastern conscious. And that is why ice cream is commonly considered a Western delicacy instead of an Eastern one. Neat, huh? ^_^ Mmm.
But enough history! Now that the world is connected via the internet, it comes as no surprise that ice cream is popular all over Asia. While we enjoy the assortments of flavors such as Chunky Monkey, Mint Chocolate Chip and Triple Chocolate Delight, the choices preferred over that part of the world are a little different! Popular Asian ice cream flavors include red bean, black sesame, egg tart, green bean, almond cookie, durian, lychee, taro and ginger! Leave it to Japan to come up with odd experimental ice cream flavors such as eggplant, tomato, wasabi, octopus, miso and peanut butter soy sauce! Hey, don't knock it until you try it!
Aside from flavorful differences, are the texture of ice cream different in between East and West? Not a thing! Ice cream is ice cream! But the influences on modern day Asian culture is vast!!! Dairy products are not as plentiful in Asia as it is in other parts of the world. The current generations are known to be the first in Asia who accept dairy as part of their usual diet! Thanks to ice cream, the intolerance has decreased which has led to other dairy products being used as ingredients in modern Asian dishes, especially cheese! ^_^
- The Japanese Upgrade of Classic American Candy -
You know how we all go gaga for Pocky, Milky and Hello Panda here in America? Well, the Japanese feel the same way about Kit-Kat...and M&M's...and Starbursts! Ironically, the best Kit-Kat isn't found in America, it's found in Japan! Oh why oh why can't my local convenience store in Manhattan carry Green Tea Kit-Kat? Kit-Kats in Japan are huge because they're considered an international delicacy! Why are the Japanese so infactuated with Kit-Kat? It may sound silly, but the name Kit-Kat sounds very close to "kitto katsu" (good luck) in Japanese. An urban myth developed early on that Kit-Kat brought good fortune. Overtime, the country has given numerous attention to Kit-Kat, which Nestle has focused lots of creative marketing efforts on Japanese consumers! There are so many unique flavors of Kit-Kat, several stores in Japan are dedicated with rows of various Kit-Kats!
What about other American candies that have been transformed and upgraded by the Japanese? When Mars, Inc. decided to get into the Japanese market, they launched specific M&M and Snickers flavors found exclusively in Japan! And last but not least! Oreo cookies are a deep fascination for Japanese audiences! While Oreos have been fairly good at giving us a wide assortment of flavors here in America (chocolate stuffed Oreo! Yum!!!), just like the other American candies mentioned above, Japan has exclusive flavors of Oreo products including the Oreo Chestnut Crunch, Blueberry ice cream bar, wafer sticks, mini chocolate bars, mango Oreos, and tiny green tea (this one is also available in China and is marketed by non-other than former Chinese basketball star sensation Yao Ming).
All this leads me to an obvious question: Why can't they make special American flavors for Pocky so the folks at Japan can be a little envious of? Hmmmmm?
With one part of the world swapping influences with the other and visa-versa, we've got new exciting things yet to be created from a large mish-mash known as fusion. Fusion is everywhere! I see it in food, in fashion, in architecture, in art, in movies, in music, and even in relationships! What's there not to love? We've spent centuries preserving cultures and keeping them in bottles, now it's time for chemistry starting with desserts! Perhaps one day I'll write the reverse article and discuss the Eastern influences of Western desserts. There are many!
Buttttttttttttttttt...watashi o yurushimasuga, kiji ga naga sugiru. See you in 15 days when I'll talk about another topic on Asian desserts! Enjoy the summer, everyone! Hee!