Japanese Crêpes: a Harajuku take on a French staple

You might have already heard of, or even have already tried crêpes in a restaurant or simply at a food stand at a fair, but did you know of the unique Japanese take on French crêpes? Today we’re going to talk about what makes Japanese crêpes so special and when they first appeared in Japan!

French Crêpes

Before discussing how the Japanese decided to make crêpes their own, let’s talk about what crepes are in the first place and how they’re typically enjoyed.

So, crêpes were born hundreds of years ago in the Brittany region of France, in the west of the country. They are thin pancakes that can be enjoyed as a sweet treat or a savory dish (usually depending on the type of batter used), though in this post we are going to focus on sweet crêpes. They may make up the main dish of a course, the dessert, or can simply be eaten as a snack during the day. In France, it is tradition to eat sweet crêpes as an afternoon snack on Februay 2nd for Candlemas. They are most often eaten at home, in restaurants or sometimes during festivies such as fairs.

French style crêpes with a chocolate filling

For sweet crêpes, the batter is usually made with flour, eggs, milk and sugar. Often an aroma is added such as vanilla, or sometimes rum or beer. Crêpes can be served as they are, or can come with a topping or a filling. Typically they’re enjoyed with sugar powdered on top, or with some jam or chocolate sauce spread and are then rolled or folded.

Crêpes in Japan

Crêpes aren’t only popular in France though, they’ve also been booming in Japan since the late 70s. However, the Japanese crêpe culture is a little bit different than that of western crêpes. Contrary to French crêpes which are usually enjoyed at home or in restaurants, in Japan it is almost exclusively an outdoor sweet, most often sold at food stands and eaten on the street as a snack.

Japanese crêpes are made with a similar batter and are cooked in a round shape as well. However, they are usually filled with whipped cream or sometimes ice cream, along with fruit, chocolate sauce and a variety of other toppings that one can choose from and are then sold rolled in a paper cone.

The design and wide variety of fillings / toppings is what makes Japanese crêpes so different from French crêpes, taking them from a mostly table dish and giving them a new life by bringing them to the “fast-snack” scene.

Display with available toppings

Origin of Japanese Style Crêpes

Knowing how crêpes are enjoyed in Japan, one might wonder: when did this new crêpe culture arise in Japan?

Well, although crêpes themselves had already been introduced in Japan and were common in hotel restaurants or cake shops, it wasn’t until the second half of the 1970s that we got to see modern Japanese crêpes.

In 1976, the first crêpe stand opened in Tokyo, a brand that would quickly become popular nationwide: Marion Crêpe. This was the first store in Japan that specialized in making crêpes specifically, and not simply as part of a restaurant menu for example.

This would set the standard for crêpes in Japan by selling directly from the stand on the street, as a snack you could eat while walking. Though at the time, the standard crêpe itself was still similar to French style crêpes, with a warm crêpe covered with fruit jam or chocolate sauce.

A year later, in 1977, Marion Crêpe would also open a shop at Takeshita Street in Harajuku, Tokyo. A street which is nowadays very often associated with Japanese crêpes, due to its high concentration in crêpe shops.

Marion Crêpe at Takeshita Street

That same year, the Café Crêpe franchise opened its first shop on Takeshita Street as well, called Blueberry House. Though at first they didn’t attract much attention, this would all change quickly when, in the summer of 1979, they would decide to add icecream as a filling inside the crêpe. This idea would prove to be the turning point that would bring all eyes to these new Harajuku style crêpes. Were then added fruits as supplements, as well as whipped cream and various other toppings.

Café Crêpe Blueberry House (closed 2011)

The concept quickly caught on and became what we know today as Japanese, or more specifically, Harajuku Crêpes. So the combination of these two franchises’ ideas of bringing crêpes out to the streets with new fillings and toppings created a whole new crêpe culture in a country thousands of miles from where it originated.

Have you ever tried Japanese style crêpes? If so, what did you think?

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