Flavors of Fall: The Autumn Desserts of Japan

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Photo by coniferconifer

Fall conjures many images for many people. Some may be reminded of the 紅葉 (kōyō), the changing of the leaves. Others may be looking forward to the various holidays and festivals, from the Yokosuka Sakana Matsuri to the imported Halloween. The ones after my own heart are those with visions of delightfully sweet モンブラン (monte blanc cake) and 紫いもアイス (murasaki imo aisu; purple yam ice cream).

While spring may be known for its delicate and uniquely Japanese flavors, fall brings plenty of earthy and sweet flavors of its own. In this article, you can read about some of the most common flavors of autumn desserts in Japan.

Chestnut
栗, マロン

chestnuts-1aPhoto by minato kaidou

One of the most depressing conversations I ever had at a college party was with a biology major about his project on the near extinction of chestnut trees in the US. Just as I would never see a live passenger pigeon, I never expected to be able to taste “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”

Thankfully, Japan had me covered. Contributing to my newest addiction, chestnut-flavored monte blanc cakes (モンブラン) are available year-round, but fall is chestnut season, which means that all varieties of chestnut foods and sweets are available.

Recommendations:

モンブランプリン (monburan pudding; note that most but not all monte blanc cakes and puddings are chestnut)
栗きんとん (kuri kinton)
甘栗 (sweet roasted chestnuts)

Pumpkin
かぼちゃ, パンプキン

pumpkin-cakePhoto by Tatsuya Fukata

Talking about pumpkins in Japan can be a little confusing. In English, the word “pumpkin” (simply written パンプキン in Japanese) most often brings to mind the large, orange fruit used as a jack’o’lantern around Halloween. You’re more than welcome to try to carve a face into a Japanese kabocha squash (かぼちゃ), sometimes translated as “pumpkin” in English, but with its smaller size and green color, it’s not quite the same.

What the kabocha squash lacks in carving potential it makes up for in deliciousness. Just remember: even a package with an orange “Halloween” pumpkin image and the word パンプキン (pumpkin) on it may in fact be flavored like かぼちゃ (kabocha squash).

Recommendations:

かぼちゃプリン (kabocha pudding)
パンプキンチーズケーキ (pumpkin cheesecake)
かぼちゃの水ようかん (kabocha mizuyōkan)

Sweet Potato
さつまいも

potato-icecreamPhoto by Hajime NAKANO

Rounding out the most common fall flavors is sweet potato. The word さつまいも (satsumaimo) in Japan typically points to a sweet potato that is purple outside and yellow inside. For a slightly different flavor, you can try 紫いも (purple yam), a type of sweet potato that is purple all the way through.

Recommendations:

紫いもアイス (murasaki imo ice cream)
さつまいもマフィン (sweet potato muffin)
スイートポテト (sweet potato cake)

These three can get you started on experiencing autumn desserts in Japan, but also be sure to keep an eye out for other seasonal flavors, such as apple, grape, and pear.

Do you have a favorite fall flavor?

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Spends weekends aimlessly wandering Tokyo.

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