Tokyo: The sweetest city in Asia
Tokyo -- home of sushi, soba and sake -- is no slouch when it comes to sweets.
Bakeries abound. Candy is plentiful. Chocolate comes in all shapes and sizes.
If the folks who put together the Michelin guide gave out stars for businesses devoted to sugar in all its glorious incarnations, Tokyo would no doubt grab a galaxy’s worth.
Here are some of our favorite high-calorie hangouts.
This international artisanal shop, which started in Barcelona and is now in cities worldwide, promises “a unique experience in each piece of candy.”
Staff make the sweet stuff on-site, cooking up and coloring the sugar and glucose in the back, then heading to the front display counter to pound, mold and cut stiff, sticky blobs.
Customers can buy bags or jars of small candies (prices vary) with delicate designs in their centers -- sometimes fruit (cherries, watermelon), sometimes words (“Love,” “Thank you”).
Large lollipops that would take days to lick down to the stick are also available. Sugar-covered jellies sit neatly spaced inside glass cases.
Papabubble also does custom orders. A 15-minute walk from Shibuya Station or Nakano Station.
Shibuya: 17-2 Kamiyama-cho, Shibuya-ku; +81 (0) 3 6407 8552.
Nakano: Arai 1-5-13, Nakano-ku; +81 (0) 3 5343 1286; www.papabubble.com
Chocolate: Chocolatier Erica
The Tiffany’s of chocolate in Tokyo.
Erica’s in Shirokanedai has been providing patrons with a fancied-up fix for 30 years, wrapping a wide selection of treats in distinctive blue-green boxes.
Truffles come in different forms, dusted with cocoa or with a hard chocolate exterior, flavored with rum, brandy or Earl Grey tea (¥632, US$8.30, for four).
Other products range from the delicate (mint-chocolate leaves, almonds embedded in an artistic chocolate shell) to the decadent (chocolate bars stuffed with marshmallows and nuts).
Visitors can order and go, or sit and feast in the café while sipping coffee, tea or hot chocolate. A seven-minute walk from Shirokanedai Station.
4-6-43 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku; +81 (0) 3 3473 1656; www.erica.co.jp
Krispy Kreme this is not.
Nico aims to bring a little bit of France to Tokyo’s Hiroo Ward. The chairs and decor feel “French café.” The wooden floor is worn.
A retro bike with a wood box for a basket sits at the entrance, along with a handwritten sign: “Nous vous proposons un moment de détente. Avec des beignets, savourez un instant de Bonheur.”
Translation: “We suggest you take a minute to relax. With donuts, savor a moment of happiness.”
The donuts are all neatly laid out, some branded like cattle with the “Nico” name. Varieties include plain, café espresso, coco milk, sesame milk (our recommendation) and maple nut.
But Nico’s bakers also aim to make salt lovers feel welcome, so they’ve created basil-tomato and sausage-cheese donuts.
Everything ranges in price from ¥160 to ¥200. Espresso (¥400) and cappuccino (¥500) are also available. Less than five minutes from Hiroo Station.
1-7-9 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku, Tokyo 〒 106-0045; +81 3 5414 2525; nico-donut.jp
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Ice cream: Ice Cream City
Ice cream lovers need look no further than this Mecca for the cold, cool stuff.
“National Geographic” named Ice Cream City one of the top 10 places to eat ice cream, and it’s easy to see why if you can get past the kitschy entrance.
Families, couples and gaggles of youngsters wander around from booth to booth, ordering soft ice cream, ice cream in crepes or on waffles, hard ice cream chopped up, filled with fruit or nuts or chocolate chips or sprinkles or all of the above and then put back together. Gelato is also available.
The arcade in the center of Ice Cream Town adds to the frenetic, sugar-fueled vibe, as does the small TV that plays ice cream-themed cartoons on a loop.
Visitors can also buy containers of handmade ice cream from Hokkaido at the Cup Ice Museum.
Flavors range from boring-old vanilla and chocolate to sea urchin, crab, garlic (with or without mint), miso noodles, curry, oxtongue and shark's fin (apologies to the World Wildlife Fund).
Ice Cream City is part of the Namja Town amusement facility (¥300 entrance fee), which is located inside the Sunshine City complex, a 10-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station.
3-1-1 Higashi-Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku; www.sunshinecity.co.jp
Cakes and scones: Haco
This quaint, hole-in-the-wall shop is so popular people can often be seen waiting in line outside to get a seat inside -- amazing, considering one of its specialties is the simple scone.
It’s the atmosphere and the accoutrements that keep customers coming back.
The scones are laid out along with dollops of cream, jam and honey. Ditto for the cakes. Haco’s homemade ice cream (¥630) changes monthly (almond apricot is the flavor for August).
Most people get a tea or coffee set, which doesn’t come cheap: scone set ¥1,260, three-dessert set ¥1,570, six-dessert set ¥2,100.
1-35-5 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; +81 (0) 3 5449 9400; www.hocoweb.com
Traditional Japanese: Usagi-ya
The folks who run Usagi-ya have been serving up traditional sweets for decades.
Their star product is the dora-yaki, a golden brown, Japanese-style pancake filled with sugary adzuki bean paste.
The Ueno location, one of two in Tokyo, is a seven-minute walk from Okachimachi Station. Look for the white rabbit on the store’s exterior.
Customers come and go in waves. Staff constantly move from the front to the back, bringing out one, two, three of the warm dora-yaki (¥200 each), or boxes of them.
The woman behind the counter operates like a persuasive drug dealer, making offhand remarks about how the soy ice cream (¥270) goes really well with the dora-yaki. She’s right. It does. We’re hooked.
1-10-10 Ueno, Taito-ku; +81 (0) 3 3831 6195; www.ueno-usagiya.jp
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