Pancakes: A Japanese Pastime (Or Something Like That)

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about food on this blog.

Why?  Well, quite simply, it all comes down to money.  The struggling young comedian lifestyle isn’t exactly conducive to going places and eating delicious things that might cost more than cheapo pre-made convenience store food and super cheap chain foods. Believe me when I say that no one needs to read a half-dozen posts on the digestive aftermath of weeks of eating almost nothing but Sukiya.  Eating out in Japan can be expensive, and, depending on your choice of venue, get even more expensive from there.  Needless to say, I have come to try to avoid eating out like the plague, whether I’d like to or not.

But, on occasion, one does have to splurge and, after a recent gig, I found myself eating pancakes with some comedy colleagues at a ritzy, tries-really-hard-to-be-trendy-and-hip place off of Center Gai (the main pedestrian street in Shibuya and home to 95% of all western media footage of Japan shot in the last fifty years).

The thing about pancakes in Japan is that, like almost anything that passes through the Japanese culinary lens, they are flipping delicious.  The other thing about pancakes in Japan is that they have recently gone through a huge popularity surge among the young consumers upon which the entire Japanese economy seems to be based, leading to more pancakes shops in Shibuya and Harajuku than could possibly be economically viable and what I can only assume is 50% of all the pictures on Japanese instagram.

The other other thing about pancakes in Japan is that, well, they aren’t pancakes.  Not in the traditional American sense of them at least.  Growing up in the states, pancakes were a breakfast food, served with a nice hefty helping of bacon or sausages, usually drenched with enough syrup to employ a cardiologist for life.  They were flapjacks, the ultimate in breakfast foods that said, “Hey, it’s breakfast, you fool,” whilst still maintaining the cool exterior of barely putting effort into your cooking (“Sure, I made breakfast, but it’s pancakes sooooooo…”).

Here in Japan, though, pancakes are thoroughly a dessert, thick monstrosities usually topped with ice cream and whatever sweet topping your twisted heart desires, dressed up and plated like a delicacy, more effort put into crafting them than you would probably deem necessary looking at it all as an outsider.

Back in my English teaching days, I once had a student claim that my pre-Japan life was “wonderful” because I could eat pancakes for breakfast.  Sure, but the pancakes I grew up with would probably shock ninety percent of the fashionable chicks lined up in front of Foofoo Cafe X for their fifteen buck “pancake”.

Such is food in Japan.  And such is life.

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