Tokyo is a very international city and you can find all the Western ingredients you want, if you know where to look. The city itself is mad about Western pastries. You can’t walk 10 feet without seeing a bakery or pastry shop. Most Japanese grocery stores have a fresh pastry section, but few have the ingredients to make them. Today I’m hoping to recreate an apple tart and pear pastry. I need custard powder and nappage, which is the glaze for the fruit. My friends in the Le Cordon Bleu patisserie course tell me that the premier pastry ingredients shop in Tokyo is called Cuoca, which is about a 25-minute train ride from my house to a neighborhood I’m not familiar with.
This could be a daunting adventure as my Japanese language is not at the conversational level, but I have Google Maps. Within 30 seconds I can get train routes and walking directions to anywhere in the city. The neighborhood I’m going to is called Jiyagaoka, which means Freedom Hill. I don’t know how it got its name, but it’s a neighborhood dripping with charm. I am no longer in the skyscraper-filled realm of central Tokyo, but in a charming suburb where the tallest buildings are just three stories.
The main street from the train is called Marie-Claire dori (which means street) and is a pedestrian walking street. The first shop you see upon leaving the station is a large TWG teahouse and salon. The restaurant looks like it was transported from 19th-century Singapore and is filled with ladies having afternoon tea. I can’t resist buying a few tea selections, especially when the names are “Weekend in Singapore” and”Weekend in Casablanca.”
Down the street is a British shop selling handbags and tea towels, a toy store with three-foot-tall stuffed bears in the window, and just across the way is one of my favorite shops, Kaldi Farms, a importer of international foods. The pedestrian street ends with a few restaurants: a ramen, a curry, an Italian and one advertising Iowa beef steaks. It’s a shame I wasn’t hungry!
Google Maps is telling me that I’m almost there as I turn down the main street, Green Street. It’s another pedestrian walkway lined with cherry trees and park benches. The locals are enjoying the afternoon sun and most of the benches are filled. The charm never seems to end here. But, after a few more steps, the real treasure is revealed — The Sweets Forest.
Most pastry shops in Tokyo are very small and are primarily take-out. But The Sweets Forest is an entirely different concept. Think of it as a Sweets Theme Park. It’s an indoor complex and maze of eight pastry shops, decorated in sets that appear to belong to The Nutcracker ballet. There’s a crepe shop, an ice cream shop, soufflés, all things berries, chocolate and even a Hong Kong Sweets. What is most remarkable is that each pastry shop is owned by a premier pastry chef and all the creations are made on the premises. Everything is fresh and homemade!
I’ve lived in Tokyo for over a year and no-one has ever mentioned with place. How can that be? After wandering through the Forest a few times, I settle on the Cinnamon Soufflé. I wait the 15 minutes it takes to bake it and oooh, the smell of cinnamon rises up from the soufflé and the center is perfectly warm and airy. Each bite is a reward for setting out on the adventure and just the perfect treat for an autumn day of outdoor exploring.
After this great surprise, next door is the real reason for my adventure. The store, Cuoca, is indeed a genuine pastry-supply shop. It’s small but has all the items for pastry. I find my neppage and custard powder. They also have an entire section of humidity-controlled chocolate. This will indeed be a place I return again and again, especially as I start the pastry course in March.
On my way home on the train, the three-story buildings grow back into the familiar Tokyo skyline, a sea of skyscrapers. I feel lucky to have found a place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, where the pace of life is slower and cars are nowhere to be seen. I look forward to returning with my husband and my kids where we can enjoy the day and sit on a park bench contemplating all things wonderful–but mainly, which pastry shop to try next.