Black Melonpan (黒いメロンパン)

Hey everyone, Happy New Years! For the first time in my life I found myself celebrating New Year’s Eve somewhere other than home in California (if you can count falling asleep by 10pm celebrating), and where else would I rather enjoy this moment than in Japan?!

On New Year’s Day I went for a long walk (I’m talking about 33km) around the Tokyo area to explore and enjoy the fresh air. Sometime in the evening I stopped by a Lawsons convenience store in Odaiba to eat some dinner, and this particular dessert stood out to me against the lighter background of yellow bread and light.


As the name would suggest, it was black. As the name would not suggest, it does not taste like melon (not even normal melonpan tastes like melon). This bread gets its name solely from its appearance. The outer crust of the bread resembles the outside of a melon, and the bread is colored black because it is infused with chocolate flavor. The packaging itself directly says that: “ベルギーチョコホイップ,” which means “Belgian chocolate whip (cream).”


I already like melonpan for the most part, but this black melonpan was on a whole other level! The outside felt particularly crispy and was dotted with chocolate chips, while the inside was both creamy and fluffy with separate layers of lightly-sweet chocolate whip cream and airy chocolate bread. It was like Matryoshka dolls of chocolate textures! From the outside to the inside the whole bread got softer, and the whip cream did not get any of the bread soggy, which was a nice surprise.



(Now that I think about it, I wonder if I can enjoy black melonpan more if it was heated… the chocolate chips would melt and become gooey, and maybe the insides would become more like a cake?)


Flavorwise, I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of chocolate flavor, which I imagine could be because of the general lightness of sweetness in Japanese desserts. There weren’t any unexpected flavors: everything is just chocolate, so if you’re not a fan of chocolate for some reason, then you already know you should avoid this.



The only gripe I have with black melonpan is in its construction. The top of the bread is not directly attached to the rest of the bread, so as you take bites the whip cream begins to ooze out and potentially make a mess. I imagine the makers did this to make it easier to fill the bread with its several layers, so I guess this was the tradeoff. Just be careful when eating this!


All in all, black melonpan is one of the best conbini sweet breads I have ever eaten, and while it is 50% more expensive than normal melonpan, I think it’s worth the extra money if you’re looking for some more flavor in your desserts. Unfortunately, ever since that day I have yet to find another black melonpan, but I will remain vigilant and hungry for more!





Concrete Turtle Ice Cream (Ted Drewes) 

A few days ago we made our debut in the great city of St. Louis! My team and I spent two days teaching science and math-based workshops to middle schoolers, but last night (and all of today) we had some free time to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels of the city. 

It was a hot, humid evening and we had just come from an afternoon exploring the great City Museum (I highly recommend checking it out), so we looked for a cool treat to rest with. One of my friends read online that Ted Drewes served some highly-lauded ice cream that people from all places come to visit. Naturally, I was excited. 

The first thing I noticed when we got there was the MASSIVE crowd (somehow) legibly lined up at the 10+ windows all managed by frantically moving cashiers. The shop had no indoors; everything was served and ordered outside. Seeing the throngs of people standing around eating their ice cream reminded me a few similarly old-style ice cream shops I’ve visited in Southern California. 

The lines were long, but the line was shorter than I expected. Probably only a half-hour passed before I was at the front, still wondering what I should decide to order. Ted Drewes has so many wild ice cream combinations and names that I would have probably found something tasty, or at least interesting, about any option. I settled for a Concrete Turtle – a blend of caramel, fudge, and pecans in a sea of vanilla ice cream. 

Right off the bat, I was rather put off by its presentation. The fact that it came inside a tall, plain soda cup was not a problem – no, not at all – for I felt it supported the classic vibes of the place. Plus, I knew it was the dessert itself that warranted the most attention, not the container. But when I peered into my cup I noticed a melting heap of milkshake ice cream. I knew it was a hot night, but I didn’t expect the dessert (called a “concrete,” to say the least) to already be served melting. I used a spoon, but I probably could have just as easily used a straw. 

I really did enjoy the ice cream though. The fudge and caramel was so thoroughly blended with the ice cream that the entire thing was simply a pale brown color, and not a single bite lacked flavor. I half-expected it to be too sweet for me, but I found it pleasantly sweet. I ordered a large cup, but even towards the very end I didn’t feel much discomfort, which was a relief. 

My favorite part of the Turtle is definitely the pecans. The uniformity of the color and texture of the melted vanilla ice cream, fudge, and caramel would have made for a very boring dessert, but the satisfying, soft crunches of the pecans accented the work. Not every bite had them, but although some might deem that an unforgivable stinginess on part of the shop, I chose to appreciate that as a random, rare gift. After all, one can appreciate things more if they don’t take them for granted. 

I loved the pecans, and I heartedly ate all the ice cream, but unfortunately I cannot attest to Ted Drewes’ ice cream with the same hype it seems to usually draw. I think if the ice cream wasn’t so melted it would be far more interesting texture-wise and appealing appearance-wise, but this was my only impression thus far, so it’s all I can review with. Ted Drewes has such a diverse menu that it would take me several weeks staying in St. Louis to fully explore, so I’ll definitely try it again the next time I come, if I ever.

Oatmeal Cream Pie (Darlisha’s Desserts) 

For those of you don’t know, this summer I’m in the middle of a cross-country bike trip, so I will get to visit many different states! I’m biking with six other people and our path is quite set, so straying away to find good desserts is hard, but occasionally I manage. 

Yesterday we made a long lunch stop at Owensboro, Kentucky, and it was here that I got to purchase my first “real” dessert. Well, I call it “real” because the only other desserts I’ve had thus far on this trip are granola/protein bars and homemade desserts, but I’m not interested in talking about bars (at least right now) and homemade desserts are harder to review and perhaps recommend (although I may reconsider this stance). 

Anyways, we spent three hours in Owensboro, so I decided to make a quick stop at an interesting dessert shop I found on Google Maps – Darlisha’s Desserts. 

It looked rather modest within its lonely street, but the shop had some personality when I stepped inside. It was spacious and had a metallic feel to it, but there were a few tables and chairs huddled to one area. There also weren’t many options to choose from, but everything I spied looked tasty enough. 

As I am oft to do, I asked the server what their most famous or popular item was; I was recommended the Oatmeal Creme Pie. When I looked more closely at what they were pointing at I noticed that – hey! – I’ve eaten these before! I vaguely remember eating them, individually wrapped, as a child years ago from some box from the grocery store. These were a whole lot bigger and more stuffed, so I definitely had higher expectations. 

I bought all two of their remaining pies and then, carefully balancing them in my jersey’s back pocket, I rode my bike to a nearby coffee shop called The Creme to regroup with my friends and enjoy some down time. 

Ok, let’s get to the pie itself. From the start, I knew this dessert would be super rich. The cookie “crusts” of the pie were dyed deep golden-brown with oil  and cratered with lots of little holes and pockmarks that lightly helped clutch the oil like a sponge. Even though the crust was made with oatmeal, there was no way these were healthy in slightest (but of course, who really expects and enjoys desserts primarily for their healthiness?). The crust also carried a powerful aroma that hit me whenever I was anywhere near the pies. Such a sweet smell is usually a good indicator that I should be careful with how much I should eat in one sitting, or else I’ll be oversweetened.

The creme within looked just as engorged with flavor. Not only did it look like some sort of condensed mixture of whip cream and cream cheese frosting, but there was plenty of it packed in the pies. I know some people like to lick the creme out of cookies (like with Oreos), but they’d might reconsider in this case. Like the crust, its sweet smell was tangible. 

I let my friends have a go at the pies before I did, and most of them eagerly took a piece. I was left with a whole pie and some extra, but even that turned out to be too much. The first bite filled my mouth with a soft, mushy (yet firm) goodness that I bet not even toothpaste could prevent. I felt like I was eating a thick cupcake, only instead of fluffy bread I was eating a very chewy cookie that oozed oil and sugar with every bite. The creme was also thick, but it melted so calmly in my mouth that it spread and sugar-coated my whole tongue. 

But as I kept taking bites, I realized that these Oatmeal Creme Pies were perhaps a bit too sweet for me. The textures of the soft crust and hearty creme quickly lost their differences when chewed, and considering how much sugar and oil each part had, I eventually felt like I was just eating balls of mushy fat and sugar. After three bites I already had to take longer pauses between bites, and beyond that I was beginning to feel like eating the pies were more of a job than an indulgence. It was never unpleasant to eat (although the sugar crash soon after surely was), but I realized that overly-sweet desserts might not be my taste. Maybe if I had a glass of milk to wash the pies down I would have enjoyed them more?

I don’t expect to like every dessert I come across – and that’s ok – but I look forward to tasting the next dessert that comes my way! 

Yomogi Dango (蓬団子)

Day by day, my vacation slowly comes to its end. Today was my last day in Kansai, and after a short four days in Tokyo I will soon be making my way back home. Over my many times living in Japan, I have made many unforgettable friends, and so I always make it a goal to see them whenever I’m in the area. 

For my last day, I said farewell to my friend who graciously let me stay with him for about three weeks, and then met with one last friend for lunch in Kyoto. She recommended we eat at one of her favorite restaurants, a pasta place called Konana (こなな), in the underground of Kyoto Station. I’m usually not comfortable eating pasta in public (it’s kind of difficult to eat (especially with chopsticks) and potentially messy, in my opinion), but this was a good friend with who I could act earnestly, so I had no fear. (Just so you know, I still love the taste of pasta. No problems there!) 

We both ordered a lunch set special: for the price of a normal pasta dish, we also received a tea and small dessert on the side! After enjoying my bamboo shoot pasta and hot black tea, the waitress brought today’s special treat – mugwort dango. 

If you read my last post about dango, you may remember that the third and final mochi ball of a sanshoku dango is mugwort-flavored. The mugwort dango I had today was essentially a six-set of those mugwort mochi balls. But as the deep forest color of these mugwort dango would suggest, the flavor and aroma of this dessert was significantly richer than that of the pale-green mugwort mochi of my sanshoku dango the other day. 

Before I elaborate on those two senses, I want to bring attention to the sheer beauty of the dessert. For a complimentary dish, the restaurant did a great job of crafting a work of art. The angular arrangement of the dango sticks, the light brushing of soy bean powder (kinako), the shining traces of black sugar syrup (kurozato) – the dessert wasn’t complex, but it sure did look sharp. 

First bite. The satisfying gumminess of the dango easily satisfied my expectations of one of dango’s most iconic and appealing qualities. I don’t know if it was my imagination, but the mochi itself also had a subtle earthy smell from all the mugwort infused within. It wasn’t strong, but it was actually noticeable. Tastewise, the mugwort was just as light. Still tasty though. 

Second bite. I tried to focus my mind on the kinako powder, but it took me a while to notice its presence. Visually it stands out from the rest of the dark dessert, but there was so little of it that it was hard to appreciate its flavor. I love the taste of kinako though, so I appreciated the few moments I caught its nutty flavor before it quickly dissolved away.

Third bite. This time though, I scooped up more of the kurozato syrup from the plate before eating the dango. I think the syrup was the highlight of this dessert. It granted each bite a powerful, but short-lived, burst of sweetness that made the next bite that much more enticing to me. I’d describe the flavor like water drops falling on an ultra-hot pan, where the water is the syrup and the pan is my tongue. 

When the water drops hit the pan, they violently boil and evaporate within a second of hitting the surface. When the syrup first hit my tongue, it assaulted my taste buds with an outburst of sugary goodness. But just like the water drops, the feeling was fleeting; the thin veil of syrup quickly dissipated, leaving me with standard mugwort dango. I suspect that the smooth texture of the dango and the relatively-thin viscosity of the kurozato syrup prevents much syrup from adhering to the dango, so it’s hard to be overwhlemed by sugar. 

Bite by bite, my dessert quickly came to its end. Today may have been the last time I will have dango for a long time, but just like with friends I know I will make every effort to experience it again. But maybe there’s a chance I’ll run into some at some supermarket that sells Japanese sweets? If I do, I’ll be sure to have some syrup on-hand to make the reunion all the sweeter. 

Whale Shark Ice Cream(ジンベイソフト)

I think it’s been over four years since I’ve been to an aquarium, so I was particularly excited to visit the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, one of the largest public aquariums in the world, with a friend today. From the outside the place looked normal, but the inside was anything but. It was enormous! Not only were there several floors of exhibits, but some of the grander exhibits probably held hundreds of animals and thousands of gallons of water. From penguins to jellyfish to sea lions, this place has plenty to see. 
We entered the aquarium at around 5pm, so unfortunately we missed the opportunity to see any of the animals getting fed (usually around 4pm). That said, it wasn’t long before I began feeling it was my turn to get fed. I had eaten lunch around noon, so I was getting really hungry… 

Within the cerulean, glowing maze of sea creatures, I chanced upon this neat sign advertising some ice cream in a tiny cafe hidden around the corner. The ice cream on the left, the Whale Shark Ice Cream, looked particularly interesting, so my stomach decided to give it a try. The phrase in the top-right corner says “海のブルー、雄大な王者のソフト,” which translates to “The ocean’s blue, ice cream of the grand king.” I know that phrase sounds odd linguistically, but it makes sense once you understand that the whale shark is considered the “king of fish” (it’s the largest living species of fish), and that just like the ice cream it too is blue. I imagined this grandiose projection serves to glorify the ice cream itself, so I wanted to be the judge to see if it lived up to its namesake. 

The Whale Shark Ice Cream began making a memorable impression from the moment the cafe lady handed it to me. The deep blue and white swirls of the Ramune (Japanese soda) and vanilla flavors were neat to stare at, and the cute dashing of white sugar pellets accented the sweet nicely. Flowers aren’t a common sight at aquariums, but regardless I appreciated the unique flower-like shape of the cone. 

Flavorwise, this ice cream matched its visuals in style and appeal. The tangy Ramune flavor of the blue ice cream was not as overbearingly sweet as one would expect from a normal soda, rather it tasted like a blue-raspberry, fruity gelato. When you add the humble vanilla to the mix, the result is very similar to a fruit cream. The tiny sugar pellets also added a sweet crunch texture to my first few licks, and I always love having a variety of textures in my food. Oh, and my favorite part of all – do you know why this dessert is called the Whale Shark Ice Cream? The blue and white color scheme with white polka dots resembles the skin of a whale shark! How cool is that?! 

Moving on to the cone, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. Even the best ice cream can be brought down by a subpar cone, but this cone did not disappoint. It wasn’t as crunchy as a sugar cone, but it wasn’t as dry as a cake cone. This cone was somewhere in-between; it was thin and flaky, but crispy and sweet. Overall, it was a solid cone. This was not a cone I would sullenly nibble after eating all the ice cream, but one that I appreciated all the way down. One interesting touch I only noticed at the very end was the rounded point at the very bottom of the cone.

The dreamy softness of the soft serve ice cream itself and the rounded, dainty structure of the cone complimented each other well, similar to how the two ice cream flavors more conspicuously complemented one another. My friend also had one of these ice creams, and he even agreed that it was delicious. The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is already a sight worth seeing in its own right, but if you get the opportunity to come, I’d say their iconic Whale Shark Ice Cream is also worth trying. 

Sanshoku Dango (三色団子)

Sun and I go way back. Ever since I saw my first sunrise over 22 years ago, we have been close friends; we’re almost always together! But some days, I just need my space. Today was one of those (admittedly many) days. No, it’s not really his fault, but sometimes he is just so energetic and bright that I have to bask in the shade indoors while he shines on. 

I guess he is just getting in the summer mood, but late May is, at least for me, still too early for me to get hyped about that just yet. To honor spring’s final moments, I enjoyed some Sanshoku Dango on my balcony in the cool evening. 

Sanshoku Dango (literally translates to Three-Color Dumplings) is a cute, sweet Japanese confectionery that most people think of when they hear the word dango. In case you’ve never heard of it, let this emoji spare me a thousand words of explanation 🍡. 

As you can see, sanshoku dango consists of three multicolored balls of mochi poised on a skewer for easy eating. Pink. White. Green. Always in that order. I thought each ball would have a different flavor, but my research (both first-hand and online) suggests that this hypothesis is false.

Only the green ball has a unique yomogi (mugwort) flavor, but it is very subtle. From all my experiences eating and making mugwort sweets in the past, I expected a taste bolder and earthier than the leafy wisps I barely noticed. After two slightly-sweet mochi balls in a row, I expected a bigger climax, but oh well. 

The texture of the three mochi balls are what really sell this treat though. Unlike normal mochi, dango mochi is significantly more gummy, bouncy, and chewy. It felt like I was chewing on bubblegum, but it was not as rubbery. I took my time enjoying each mochi ball before moving onto the next, and since I had a total of nine mochi balls (dango is often served in sets of three), my cool evening felt particularly long and relaxing. 

But even though the taste is only decent and the texture is the only thing I’ve complimented, I want to give more credit to the Sanshoku Dango’s visuals. The colorful pink, white, and green of the dango certainly catches one’s attention among other single-colored mochi desserts, but its connection with the spring runs deeper than that. You see, this particular type of dango is most commonly eaten around the time of Girl’s Day in Japan (March 3rd), when spring is starting to spring forth. As such, one theory claims that the pink represents cherry blossoms, the white represents leftover snow, and the green represents newborn sprouts. Another theory suggests that the three colors wholly represent cherry blossom pink buds, white flowers, and green leaves. 

Whatever the truth may be, all I know for sure is that my Sanshoku Dango was a pleasant treat for reminiscing on the spring. I think I’ll be ready for the summer sooner than later, but for now I’m content.

Tiramisu (プチティラミス)

For the last two months I’ve been living in Japan, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a wide variety of delicacies and desserts from both supermarkets and personal vendors alike. I have to return home in about two weeks, but before I go I want to sweeten my adventure’s end with a torrent of new dessert experiences. 

To that end today I purchased a Puchi-Tiramisu (Japanese: プチティラミス) alongside my normal groceries. The prefix “puchi” comes from the French word “petit,” which means “small.” As often as I’ve seen tiramisu in Japan, I’m a little surprised that I’ve never actually eaten it before. I just wanted to try it, so I opted for a small serving of this regal dessert.

The package was tiny, but filled to the brim with fluffy goodness! Once upon my first bite, I was met with a bold, yet mellow combination of flavors and textures. 

The mascarpone cheese was the strongest ingredient in the mix. Its tart flavor and airy texture reminded me of cheesecake and whip cream, but its lightness allowed the tiramisu’s soothing coffee accents, which were already hinted in the aroma, to peek out and make its debut in the aftertaste. 

The cocoa powder dusting the confection was a small detail, but not one easily missed. After a bite of moist, rich custard, the dry powder lightly caked my tongue and shared its rich chocolate flavor. There were also tiny pieces of savoiardi biscuits (or some kind of bread?) hidden in the mix adding to the texture medley. They were the “solid” pieces of the tiramisu, but they were as soft as super-airy sponge cake. 

Tiramisu is the newest entry on my (admittedly shallow) list of desserts experienced, but it has definitely left me with a desire for more. Maybe the next time I visit the supermarket I’ll purchase a few to last a while. Or if I’m determined, I’ll hopefully one day get the chance to try a more authentic variety in a restaurant or in Italy.