The crepe is an iconic piece of French cuisine, often using the finest ingredients. But hop on over to Tokyo’s Harajuku area, and you’ll see plenty of people walking around and enjoying the Japanese spin on the dish. Today, let’s delve into the world of Japanese street food with the world of Japanese crepes.
Before we go into the differences between French crepes and Japanese crepes, there are actually not that many.
The crepe originated in Brittany, an area in western France, all the way back in the 13th century. Despite their popularity, it’s not really clear how or when it even ended up on the streets of Japan.
French crepes are often made with wheat flour, milk, and eggs. However, they can also be made with buckwheat flour, usually for more savory crepes. This French treat is usually cooked, filled with top-notch ingredients, and laid on a plate. They are often folded or wrapped in a burrito shape.
Sometime during the 1970s, crepes made an appearance in Harajuku as a street food. These Japanese street crepes were thinner, folded into a cone in paper wrapping, and most importantly, full of unique ingredients. Unlike French crepes, Japanese crepes use wheat flour for both sweet or savory fillings.
The outer layer of a Japanese-style crepe is made to be paper thin by using a tool to spread the crepe batter across the pan or griddle. This street food is soft, but good shops will make ones that are nice and crispy around the edges.
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While French crepes tend to use the finest ingredients, Japanese crepes are made to be a delicious treat that you can enjoy while shopping or on your way down Takeshita Street. That means that the ingredients may not be fancy, but they sure are delicious and easy to hold.
Fresh fruits are so common that you probably can’t find a crepe stand without a single fresh fruit option. Things like bananas, strawberries, apples, and peaches are common staples, but more seasonal and regional fruits are also usually on the menu. Think fruits like kiwi fruit, mangoes, the famous Hokkaido melons, Japanese mikan (tangerines), and Amaou strawberries.
For some added sweetness, some crepes may feature cinnamon apples for a kind of apple pie taste.
Dairy products like fresh whipped cream, custard, and ice cream are also common in one way or another. Japan loves fresh whipped cream (nama kurimu) because of its more subtle sweetness. Meanwhile, custard has a bit more flavor and volume. Ice cream, too, is a popular option with plenty of flavors including vanilla, chocolate, and matcha (Japanese powdered green tea) flavors.
These toppings are so popular that many dessert crepes will have at least one of these, if not a combination. That being said, if dairy isn’t very kind to your stomach, you can always ask for it without using a simple “nama kurimu nashi (without)”.
Some other tasty toppings include nuts and plenty of sauces. Strawberry, caramel, and chocolate sauce are popular additions to crepe’s fillings. Even Nutella is becoming more popular at crepe shops.
If you want to add a bit of Okinawa flavor to your crepe, you can also try a crepe with kuromitsu (traditional Japanese syrup) made with kokuto (Okinawa black sugar). You can go more traditional as well with an azuki red bean paste filling.
You can also find tasty treats like cheesecake, chocolate cake, brownies, mochi, oreos, and more. Sometimes you will find them in pieces, but other places will put a whole slice of cake inside of your crepe.
Japanese savory crepes, also known as snack crepes, are still made with the same golden-brown thinness and flavor of a dessert crepe. So the only thing separating snack crepes from dessert crepes is the filling.
This snack-on-the-go can have different proteins like tuna, ham, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, or sausage. For veggies, lettuce, spinach, and green peppers are common toppings. The sauces are really where it stands out, with sauces like Japanese mayo, pizza sauce, and salsa being just a few options.
Tokyo has plenty of places to enjoy crepes. However, if you’re looking for options, the best place to head is to Harajuku. There are so many to choose from, but here are just a popular few.
Marion Crepes is one of the two oldest crepe shops in Harajuku, started in the 1970s just after the now closed Angel Hearts. It’s not as flashy as other shops on Takeshita Street, with a blue, red, and white color scheme different from the pink of other shops.
Santa Monica Crepes fits in a bit more with the general Harajuku kawaii aesthetic with a bright white and pink storefront. It even has a sign that lights up at night that features a strawberry crepe, so you can’t miss it.
Cafe Crepe Laforet is off of Takeshita Street, but it’s actually on the first level outside of Laforet Harajuku. This popular shopping center has plenty of great stores. tasty restaurants, and even a Sailor Moon store. So after a day shopping, you can head outside and buy a crepe to relax!
Craving some Japanese crepes now? What are your favorite crepe fillings? Let us know in the comments!
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