Bread / Pastries / Desserts, Gourmet Guide

In Japan, a cafe is the place to go whenever you want to have some sweets, such as a parfait or a cake, with coffee or another beverage, or enjoy a light meal such as a plate of pasta or a sandwich. Some places open early in the morning, allowing you can have breakfast, lunch, a light dinner, or just a coffee break.

"Kissaten," or Japanese coffee shops, fall into the same business category as cafes, but when Japanese people say "cafe," they are usually talking about rather stylish places young women like to go to. At kissaten, the emphasis lies on drinking coffee and taking a short break rather than on being a stylish place, which is why men and elderly people also like going there. In recent years, however, suburban chain coffee shops have been expanding in residential areas, in front of stations, and in business districts. It is hard to clearly distinguish between a cafe and a kissaten. Some cafes have special features. For example, there are cafes like they have in Paris where you can sit outside. These are called "open cafes." Other cafes, referred to as "dog cafes," let you bring your dog with you. In "cat cafes," you can enjoy the company of cats. "Book cafes" are full of books you can read, and in "cafe bars" you can have an alcoholic drink with your coffee. Since most cafes also have light meals on the menu, you can simply go to a cafe for lunch. Many young Japanese women go to cafes for a meal. One of their purposes of going to a cafe is to have sweets. Sometimes cake shops have their own cafes, and if they are popular, you might even have to wait in line. There are trends for sweets that change with time, and depending on the trend, you might have to wait in line for crepes, donuts, pancakes, or cupcakes. One of the things young Japanese women like to do together is to drink coffee or tea while eating sweets and having a long talk. Japanese sweets are called "wagashi." Wagashi is designed to go well with green tea and matcha tea, and it looks and tastes completely different from Western sweets. There are different types of wagashi including rice cakes, dumplings, sweet bean jelly, steamed buns, and more, and some of them represent a particular season. Additionally, certain wagashi are associated with certain events, such as hina-arare (popped rice covered in sugar), kashiwa mochi (a rice cake wrapped in a leaf), tsukimi dango (plain dumplings), or hanami dango (colorful dumplings), and their appearance also has a profound meaning. Most people buy wagashi at a wagashi shop and eat them at home, but at some places you can eat them in the shop. Such shops are also called "kanmi-dokoro." At kanmi-dokoro, you can have traditional Japanese sweets that cannot be carried home, such as zenzai (red bean soup) or tokoroten (jelly noodle soup), as well as parfaits and other desserts arranged in a Japanese style. Many kanmi-dokoro are decorated like traditional Japanese houses which make them a perfect place to take a break and take in Japan.

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