Patissier of ‘fakes’ takes the cake, eats it, too

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

A confectionery store in suburban Saitama is generating a buzz thanks to its uniquely deceiving assortment of sweets.

One of them is the “Nanchatte ramen,” which can translate roughly as “fake ramen noodle.” The name sounds like a Chinese dish, but in reality it’s a cake — that looks exactly like ramen.

“I wanted to create sweets more amusing and with more impact for customers,” explained Hiromichi Iino, president of the Japanese and Western confectionery store Baigetsudo in Honjo, Saitama Prefecture.

The store was founded in 1897 and sells traditional Japanese confectionery, including “monaka,” a treat with adzuki bean jam filling sandwiched between two wafers.

Iino noted he chose ramen as the subject for a cake since the noodle dish is very common in Japan.

“There were no cakes that look like ramen. I thought, ‘Why not creating them myself?’ ” Iino recalled.

After its launch in November last year, the Nanchatte ramen cake, which come in both small and large sizes, took off, thanks mostly to word of mouth through social-networking services, including Facebook, according to Iino.

“Customers are taken by surprise by the ramen cake. Many of them say ‘Wow,’ ” the 46-year-old pastry chef said.

Iino explained that the bottom of the dessert, served in an earthenware bowl, is sponge cake covered with a layer of panna cotta pudding. Yellow mont blanc paste is spread like noodles and a jelly made with tea is poured in to look like brownish ramen broth.

For the finishing touch, several items made from “nerikiri” bean paste are placed on the surface of the “broth” to substitute for common ramen toppings, including “char siu” pork and “menma” lactate-fermented bamboo shoots, while pistachios stand in for green onions, Iino said.

The hard part about creating this dish was finding an appropriate combination of ingredients to ensure it tasted good, Iino said.

Priced at ¥430, the store sells around 40 of the smaller ramen cakes per day, compared with two to three of the larger ones, which go for ¥1,300.

At the beginning of this year, Iino devised another unique cake called the “Nanchatte mori soba,” or fake morisoba buckwheat noodles.

“I wanted to have one more ‘fake’ something, that was also familiar and common like ramen,” Iino said.

Starting with a roll cake and fresh cream, a mont blanc paste is spread on top to substitute for the soba noodles. The “soup,” in which the noodles are supposed to be dipped, is made of coffee jelly and is similar in color to soba soup.

The fake mori soba is not as popular as the ramen, Iino said with a laugh, explaining that only one or two of the cakes are sold in a typical day.

Other “fake” sweets on sale at the store include “Nanchatte beer jelly,” made of apple jelly, with foamed lemon jelly standing in for the beer foam. “Nanchatte dark beer jelly” is also available, made from coffee jelly and fresh cream.

“There were already beer jellies on the market, but they don’t taste that good because they use real beer. I wanted to create something delicious that could appeal to all tastes,” Iino said.

Several years back, he started selling a roll cake named the “Nagasugiru roll,” or overlong roll cake, which marked the beginning of the unique sweets on sale at the store.

A normal roll cake is 12 to 18 cm long, Iino said, but this roll cake is a surprising 50 cm.

“Roll cakes were a fad at that time, but I found no ‘long’ types of cakes. Then I decided to create such a cake by myself,” he said.

He later added the “Futosugiru roll,” or over-thick roll cake, which has a diameter of 14 cm, double the normal size.

Iino said he simply wanted to please his customers with these amusing creations, and wanted to have fun himself in coming up with them.

“The smiles of customers give us further motivation. I like to hear laughter. We’re selling ‘dreams’ to customers,” he said.

Iino said most of his customers are regulars from the neighborhood, but people from surrounding prefectures, including Tochigi, Ibaraki, Tokyo, Chiba and Kanagawa, come in specifically to buy the ramen or roll cakes after the store gets featured on TV, which happens from time to time.

“We’ve also had customers from Sendai and Kobe who wanted to buy those sweets,” Iino said.

Atsuko Kobayashi is a regular from Honjo. She said that when she first saw the Nanchatte ramen, she couldn’t believe it was a cake.

“I wonder how (the owner) came up with the idea,” she said. “It’s a dreamy idea.”

Kobayashi, whose husband runs a construction company, bought two small ramen cakes to give to one of their clients.

“The client has two children. But the client will be pleased with the cake,” rather than the children, Kobayashi said with a smile.

Yoshikazu Ohno, a 34-year-old company employee from Tokyo, said he dropped by the store for the first time to buy the overlong roll cake, which seemed “interesting” to him.

“I know the shop as I used to live around here,” he said. “I have a meeting nearby, so I decided to visit here as well.”

The roll cake was sold out, so Ohno instead bought some other sweets, including one over-thick roll cake and one ramen cake, which he thought looked “identical” to real ramen.

As for any upcoming unique sweets, Iino said he might consider creating something new in the summer, the off-season for the industry.

“I can’t afford to come up with a new concept right now, as we’ll be busy until around May,” he said. “So I might think of something new in the summer.”