Originally, this blog was only going to be about Belgian food in Japan, but then we saw something on a street corner that was definitely not supposed to be there.
Below is a picture of a Japanese store selling waffles and other Belgium-inspired sweets at Kobe Sannomiya station. It belongs to a chain with 34 establishments all over Japan. As you can see, the chain is called Manneken. According to their about page, the chain’s history began when its Japanese founder was enchanted by the taste of a true Belgian waffle, sold on a Brussels street somewhere in the 1980s. In 1986, their first store was established in Osaka, and they eventually received the Belgian Chevalier Crown Medal along with congratulations from the Prime Minister of that time!
Speaking of Manneken, about a week ago we spotted a gigantic Manneken Pis statue at a Kobe street corner. It was way bigger than the original, it was white (not bronze), not actually peeing and I’m sure our Belgian readers will notice that there’s just something off about his face. We suppose this is meant as a homage to the original, but it doesn’t really work as well on a Japanese street corner in our opinion.
Apparently, it’s not even the only one in Japan: a fellow blogger (Nippaku) has a picture of another one in her third post on an internship in Kyūshū, one of the major islands of Japan.
Now, for those of you who might be wondering what a Japan-made Belgian waffle tastes like according to real experts *cough* like us, fear not! I tried one, though we bought it at another chain.
Our verdict? Well, I took a plain one for ¥150 (€1,15) which is cheaper than in Belgium, and it was not as fresh or ever-so-slightly crunchy like they are back at home, but otherwise, we think it deserves a solid 7/10. I personally like how this particular store was not trying to add too much bells and whistles to what should be not much more than a sugary waffle, making choosing a lot easier as well.
Next, we tried
French Belgian fries! We went to see Meriken Park, a modern and very spacious public area bordering at the sea, and the Taste of Kobe food festival was coincidentally taking place. Despite the name, the event actually featured a fairly modest selection of foreign kitchens, one of which was Belgian.
We are happy to report that the Belgian hut was more succesful in attracting customers than the British and German huts right next to it! The hut sold Belgian fries and sausages (witte pens for the Belgians), and also a selection of beers. It really was our lucky day: we bought some fries to try out and sat down in front of a Japanese lady and man, who were each enjoying a sausage and two different beers. Having learnt Japanese for three years at KU Leuven, we understood every comment they made about what they were consuming and we heard them say things like Umai! Oishii! meaning “delicious” or “tasty”. We even overheard the lady saying that the beer would go well with rice — a great compliment!
This was a perfect opportunity to start a conversation with them about it, but neither Naomi nor me really had the guts. Naomi decided to tempt me with the promise of a pizza from the Italian stand if I dared to talk to the Japanese pair — it worked — and we had a short but fun conversation (the man said he’d visited Antwerp and liked it), and apparently, we were fascinating enough to be asked for a picture with the Japanese lady.
Our own verdict on the fries was also quite positive. While the size of the serving was rather small for our standards (but normal for Japan), the taste was pretty good.
If any of our readers in Japan know of other Belgian things in Japan, let us know in the comments!