If you've ever had the good fortune to travel through Tokyo's Narita Airport, you wouldn't have missed the stacks of Tokyo Banana Pies in the shops, sitting among all the tasty treats for friends back home. These small vanilla sponge cakes filled with banana custard are Japan's more upscale version of the Hostess Twinkie, so we decided to taste them to see if they were truly gift- or cringe-worthy.
Like so many Japanese products, the beautiful packaging sets a high bar for the culinary adventure that awaits. Open the box and you will find the cakes wrapped individually to maintain their freshness. (The makers suggest that Tokyo Bananas be consumed within one week to guarantee goodness.) As soon as the wrapper is opened, the sweet smell of banana pours out. The first bite doesn't disappoint—it delivers a satisfyingly authentic mouthful of rich, creamy banana custard. Not too sweet and no hint of anything artificial—it might not be as fresh as Magnolia Bakery's mouthwatering banana pudding but the flavor tastes natural. The list of ingredients includes wine and whiskey, but only the most discerning of foodies would be able to detect these flavors. The filling is delectably rich, so much so that it's hard to imagine eating more than one in a sitting.
Further adding to the product's appeal, and a nod to the country's appreciation for playful design, these treats come with leopard, giraffe and cat tail patterns on the wrappers. Despite being all the rage in Japan, don't expect the Tokyo Bananas stateside any time soon. The only way to pick up a box of these guilty pleasures is to make a trip to the world's largest metropolis.
Images by Graham Hiemstra