I’ve been looking for an excuse to eat and write about “Tokyo Banana”, for some time. It’s a really popular omiyage, but most of my friends in Tokyo have never tried it because it’s just that: something you buy for other people, not for yourself.
But the opening of Tokyo Skytree and its surrounding shopping mall “Solamachi”, proved irresistible. There’s a new, “only at Skytree” choco-banana flavour of the snack, and when I saw that it came in a leopard print, I had to try it.
So what is Tokyo Banana? It’s a small sponge cake, filled with banana custard. It was “born” in November 1991. As a souvenir I guess it’s popular because it says “Tokyo” on the box, bananas are a cute shape, the banana custard is actually nice and not fake-tasting and they’re super fresh – each box lasts for about a week. They’re also individually packaged, so they’re easy to share.
|The original Tokyo Banana|
|Classic packaging. I like the spotted "bow ties" - gives the bananas a distinguished look.|
I don’t really see the connection between “Tokyo” and “banana”, though I guess bananas have a slightly exotic connotation and perhaps if you came from a small town to see all the excitement of the big city, bananas might sum up the experience somehow. Bananas as a graphic device make me think of the Memphis design movement of the late 1980s, and the packaging for Tokyo Banana shares a certain ‘post modern’ spirit.
|A post modern design aesthetic|
Last November, a caramel banana version was released to celebrate the 20th anniversary, but the new leopard print, “Tokyo Banana Tree,” is the one. I visited Solamachi just after Skytree opened on May 22, and even on a wet Monday night, it was teeming with people. It took a while to buy my precious leopard bananas, thanks to all the school kids on excursion, lining up to buy 4 or 5 boxes each.
Well, I’m relieved to report it was worth the wait. The banana cakes are soft and springy, filled with choco-banana custard. The taste isn’t too sweet and cloying. The “leopard print” is actually a pattern of chocolate cake pressed into the pale yellow sponge. My husband thought the pattern was a little “kimochi warui” – creepy – as it made him think of mouldy bananas. But the taste was extremely fresh.
The full name of this omiyage is “Tokyo Banana (mitsuketa)” or “I found Tokyo Banana!” Actually, it’s not so hard to find – major train stations like Tokyo, Ueno, Omiya and Shinjuku have stores, along with the airports, Tokyo Tower, Odaiba and now, Skytree. Prices start at 500 yen for a pack of 4 (but if you want the fancy box, you’ll need to buy a pack of 8 for 1,050 yen). The classic bananas are 50 yen cheaper.
Two years ago, real bananas were crazy expensive (or just plain impossible to find) in Tokyo, thanks to the Banana Diet, which was got a lot of coverage on TV. The idea was that you had a banana and a glass of lukewarm water for breakfast and then ate normally and you were supposed to lose weight. Well, bananas are back to100yen a bunch where I live, so I guess it didn’t work.
Somehow I think a Tokyo Banana diet wouldn’t work, either. Shame.