The Search for Perfect Purin in Tokyo
Posted On July 3, 2022
Have you ever had Japanese purin? Purin, or pudding, is essentially Japanese crème caramel or flan, made with the same sort of exacting perfection in which Japan treats all culinary deliciousness. You might know it as caramel custard, egg pudding, or caramel pudding, but no matter what you call it, it’s insanely good.
Purin is both the most seductive and the most unassuming dessert I know. The top glistens with glossy deep dark caramel that gives way to a impossibly jiggly soft-yet-firm creamy base that just begs to be cut into with a spoon. At the same time, most people tend to pass over purin in favor of fluffy Japanese pancakes, Japanese cheesecake, or taiyaki. Still, something about purin speaks to a deep need in me. I have deep feels for purin.
I miss Japan. I miss it an unreasonable amount, considering. It seems like travel to Tokyo won’t be back for a while (sob!) and while I was hoping to post this when it would be a helpful guide to those traveling, I’ve decided that I want to luxuriate a little bit in all the purins I’ve eaten in the past. Indulge me, if you will, and read along for my search for the perfect purin in Tokyo.
What is purin?
To talk about purin, we kind of need to go way back to the beginning of how Japan got into yōgashi, or Western style sweets and desserts. Japan’s very first experience with yōgashi happened with the Portuguese in the 16th century. From there, castella sponge cake (kasutera) became incredibly popular. They’re still popular today, being one of the top omiyage (edible souvenirs) from Nagasaki. Once Western-style sweets became popular, vanilla custard based ones became especially so, the most popular being purin, of course.
“Purin”, derived from the English “pudding,” was initially a luxury food due to the lack of dairy after World War II. After dairy became more available, purin started showing up everywhere, from ultra luxe purin a la mode at hotels to little plastic cups in combini convenience stores. Those little fluted plastic cups of Pucchin Purin have been around since the early seventies and are to Japan what chocolate Snack Packs are to North Americans.
Purin’s cult following
Purin is really popular in Japan. There are purin flavored snacks, chocolates, candies, ice cream, you name it. There’s even a Sanrio character called Pompompurin, a chubby little golden retriever with a caramel beret. Japanese people love purin; so much so that there is even a giant make-it-at-home “king pudding” gelatin pudding mix with pre-made caramel that comes in a bucket that you use as the pudding mold. It makes more purin than you could ever know what to do with and to be honest, I kind of wanted to try it.
Purin is definitely one of those beloved nostalgic desserts and lately, purin is becoming even more trendy. Purin kind of has a cult following these days: there are instagrams dedicated to purin, hours long line ups, and premium purins that sell out long before you have even heard of them. Part of the appeal is that purin can be, like many Japanese foods, both high and low end. There are literally dozens of affordable purins you can buy at the grocery store, as well as dedicated high end purin stores. You can even make purin at home.
Because purin is something that both children and adults enjoy, I feel like it’s a true part of Japanese culture, much like ramen, sushi, and shokupan. The rich culture behind purin is partially why I set out on a journey to search for the best purin in Tokyo. But also, it was just because I love purin. I can spend hours on the purin hashtag on Instagram, dreaming of eating purin. There’s something about the way it looks, the way it jiggles, and the joy I get when I use one of those fancy paddle-like purin spoons to carve out that first bite that brings me an immeasurable amount of joy.
Our search for the perfect purin
Mike by the way, does not share my purin obsession, but he was more than willing partner in purin. Partly because I think he wanted to make me happy and partly because I think he thought it was so funny that purin turned out to be a lot more complicated than I thought.
Anyway, we were lucky enough to spend a large chunk of time in Japan earlier this year before the pandemic hit. We spent our days wandering with plenty of breaks for snacks. It’s my all time favorite way to explore a city and my love for purin was growing as much as I was. I was diving deeper into my obsession daily by feeding my addiction with combini (convenience store) purin, but one day, while we were at a bookstore, I saw the cutest little paperback book. It had rows and rows of stylized illustrated puddings on the cover and I spent 20 minutes flipping through the pages before Mike gently told me that I should buy it instead of creepily drooling at the photos.
My purin bible
The pudding book was perfection: full color, chock-full of pictures, all about the famous puddings of Tokyo. Yes, there are famous puddings in Tokyo. And this book was going to show me all of them. To say I was excited was an understatement. With the help of trusty google translate (thank goodness for that scan and translate feature, shout to the devs at google translate!) I made a little purin map, in hopes that we would wander across one (or seven) purin shops a day.
Purin, as I soon discovered, is a competitive sport in Japan. There are rules. There are times. There are lines. Okay, no, there aren’t really that many lines but that’s because the pudding usually sells out before lines can even start to form. I loved eating purin in Tokyo. I highly recommend it, even if you only go to one purin place or just pick up purin from the combini. Purin is part of the Japanese soul and my search for perfect purin was something that brought me joy, deliciousness, and frustration, all in equal parts. Read on for all the purins I tried, as well as ratings on ambience, location, ease, taste, and aesthetics.
4/4 Seasons Coffee
This was my all time favorite purin that we tried in Tokyo. 4/4 Seasons is a very popular coffee shop in Shinjuku – they roast their own selection of single-origin coffee beans daily and are known for both their coffee and their purin. In fact, their purin is the very first purin featured in the Tokyo purin book.
The purin is a classic round shape with a deep, dark caramel that contrasts with the beautiful yellow-hued pudding. It’s topped with a dollop of whipped cream and the quintessential candied red cherry with a stem. It comes on Japanese ceramics and it’s a purin that evokes a cute nostalgic retro vibe in a modern cafe setting. It was a perfect match for an icy cold brew coffee, which complimented the sweetness of the purin perfectly.
How To Get It
4/4 is relatively easy to get to as it’s located in Shinkuku (Ni-chome, which is not really what tourists think of Shinkjuku, it boarders it on the East side) but the purin sells out quickly and it’s only available after 1 pm, so it’s not the most convenient. We once got there (I think we had three 4/4 purins during our 2 week stay) at 12:55 and the lady serving us said that they weren’t selling purin yet. She did let us order in advance though and brought us our purin promptly at 1 pm.
The purin at 4/4 is classic. The caramel offers a gentle bitter contrast to the sweetness of the purin, which is just the right texture: somewhere between firm and yielding. Seriously SO GOOD. What every purin wants to grow up to be.
Address: 4/4 Seasons Coffee, 2-7-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022
Baku Coffee Roasters
Baku is a cute little coffee shop where they roast their own coffee and the owner/barista hand selects and focuses on specialty beans from Southeast Asia. It’s a small shop that’s housed in a former timer store with hipster vibes.
The purin was creamy and firm and the caramel was just bitter enough. It’s a purin that goes very well with black coffee. I loved the little Japanese pottery that it came on. It’s a rustic purin with no adornments and Sumi Okamura (the owner) means for it to be solid and simple. A joy to eat!
How To Get It
Baku is kind of in the middle of nowhere if you’re a tourist, but it is right next to Monzen-nakacho Station so it’s not hard to get to. You’d have to make a trip intentionally to the shop for purin but if you’re a coffee lover you will probably want to anyway.
There was the cutest dog hanging out while we were there and the purin was delicious. Baku is the second purin featured in the Tokyo pudding book.
Address: Baku Coffee Roasters, 1-21-11 Tomioka, Koto, Tokyo 135-0047
Dixans Jimbocho is the second shop of the popular Dixans cafe – the original is in Suidoubashi. The OG Dixans does a perfectly plush piece of toast that I absolutely adore, but don’t make the mistake of going there thinking you’ll get to order purin, they only have purin at the Jimbocho location, which I learned the hard way.
This was one of the pricier purins of the ones we tried, but that’s because they sell it as a set with a drink. It comes in a little ceramic skillet and with the most perfect quenelle of amaretto cream on top. Cutting into it was pure satisfaction. It was smooth, yet firm and the not-too sweet amaretto cream was the perfect slight almond-y compliment.
How To Get It
We had just finished a satisfying bowl of udon at Udon Maruka and decided to walk it off and head over to the Dixans in Suidoubashi for purin. When we got there, they were like, but we only serve purin at Jimbocho. The Dixans Jimbocho is literally one block away from Udon Maruka. Facepalm moment right there. Anyway, when we finally made it there, another day, I was super worried because they sell out of the purin before noon. Luckily, even though it wasn’t displayed in the case of pastries, they had some in the back.
If you’re looking for cafe vibes and an Insta-perfect purin, look no further than Dixans Jimbocho. Don’t worry though, Dixans’ purin isn’t just about looks, it tastes good too.
Address: Dixans Jimbocho, 1-24 Kanda Jinbocho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0051
Egg Baby Cafe
Egg Baby Cafe is one of those places that again, you’ll see all over Instagram, but mostly for their sandwiches. It’s a super popular cafe that focuses on —you guessed it— egg dishes. I think they’re going for a New York kind of vibe with lots of brunch-y menu items. Their egg sandos look amazing but we were there for one reason: purin.
This was my first slice of purin. All the other ones were of the round variety. I liked it okay. It was smooth and firm, and more on the sweet side. It came with a dollop of whipped cream which helped cut the sweetness. There was beer at Egg Baby Cafe so Mike was happy 🙂
How To Get It
Egg Baby Cafe is in Ueno, which is a super cute area. We happened to wander by the cafe at around 11am and I got SO EXCITED when I saw all the slices of puddings in silver dishes lined up in a row. We made our way to the counter to order but of course the lady said, “purin is only after 2pm.” The purin gods are frustrating! Sometimes you have to go early or they’ll be sold out but sometimes if you go early, you just can’t get it. What do they want from me?! I already worship at the alter of purin. Just give me purin!! Anyway, we went back promptly at 2 (I swear the lady smirked when she saw us) and I got my little retro sundae dish of sliced purin.
This place was all most all looks, no substance. Maybe the egg sandos are better?
Address: Egg Baby Cafe, 5-10-9 Ueno, Taito, Tokyo 110-0005
Iijikan is a cute little cafe/bar in Kojimachi. It’s popular for lunch sets and also dinner and after dinner drinks. It’s funny because it’s right in a neighborhood that Mike and I are super familiar with but is probably not on the radar for most tourists.
They are known for the purin here and for good reason. It was smooth and creamy, firm and sweet with the perfect contrast from the caramel which was generous and just bitter enough. Super well balanced. The dollop of softly whipped cream on top was lovely too. I love how it was served in a retro cup – I just wished it had the cherry on top because I’m a sucker for cherries on top. It was such a charming experience.
How To Get It
We stopped in on a rainy day and it was the coziest experience ever. They serve purin from 11:45am onwards.
I had a purin and coffee and Mike had a beer with pizza toast. The pizza toast was the best pizza toast EVER and they have a large selection of craft beers and Japanese wines. It’s definitely on my to-revisit list.
Address: Iiijikan Kojimachi, 3-10-8, Kojimachi, Chiyoda 102-0083
Cafe Chianti is an Italian restaurant that specializes in pasta and sweets. I actually didn’t know that this cafe was in the Tokyo purin book until after we went here. I just happened to see it on Instagram.
The purin is the sliced square kind and it’s a medium firmness with a nice eggy flavor and feeling. It was on the medium sweet side and it came with rum raisins and a little bit of cream. I liked it but it wasn’t my favorite. The caramel was just a bit too light for me. Plus I really like it when purin comes in a purin cup (or on pretty pottery). This was on a plate and to be honest the plating was out of the 80s.
How To Get It
Cafe Chianti is in located in Matsuya Ginza, a department store on the main strip in Ginza. We stopped in for an afternoon break and getting the purin wasn’t a problem at all.
It was so cute seeing all the old Japanese obachan (grandmas) having sweets sets. I ordered the purin and a coffee and Mike ordered a beer.
Address: Cafe Chianti, Matsuya Ginza 8th Floor, 3 Chome-6-1 Ginza, Chuo City, Tokyo 104-8130
Parlor Ohashi · 純洋食とスイーツ パーラー大箸
Parlor Ohashi is run by a Michelin starred chef who just so happens to run a retro new-style kissaten coffee shop. Kissaten, if you’re not familiar with them, are tearooms slash coffee shops popularized in the Showa era (1926 to 1989). They serve sweets and classic Japanese cafe foods like napolitan spaghetti, sandwiches, yaki soba, toast.
Purin is a pretty classic kissaten dessert and Parlor Ohashi’s purin is probably one of my favorites. It comes served in a silver pudding cup in a pool of burnished black caramel topped with a dollop of softly whipped cream that has just the tiniest hint of sake. It has just the right texture: firm but yielding with a rich sweet eggy-ness. The caramel was slightly bitter and a nice contrast to the sweetness of the purin itself. I tend to like caramels more on the burnt side, reminiscent of burnt tops of basque cheesecake.
How To Get It
Parlor is located in Shibuya FUKURAS, which makes it extremely convenient. They serve the purin from open to finish and as far as I can tell, they never sell out. For these reasons alone we went back to Parlor multiple times during our trip. It was the perfect place for a quick coffee, purin, and beer break. The cafe itself is in the middle of a mall so don’t expect those dark and retro Showa kissaten vibes, but they still have cute banquette seats and its location can’t be beat.
The only thing that would have been better is if they put a cherry on top.
Address: Parlor Ohashi, 1-2-3 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0043, Tokyo 160-0022
White Glass Coffee
Please, for the love of purin, do not go here. I’ve included it as a warning.
There were a bunch of cute purins in the case so of course I ordered one. It was not good. The cheap ¥100 purin from 7-11 was even better. I was pretty much convinced that they got their purin from the combini but as we left, I saw a little sign in front of the purin that said homemade. Facepalm.
How To Get It
It looked like a cute little cafe in the back streets of Shibuya and they have a nice space but the purin is absolutely horrible. We stopped in because (as per usual) I needed a break from the massive amount of walking we were doing.
At least the cafe was cute, I guess.
Address: White Glass Coffee, 23-18 Sakuragaokacho Visionary Arts 1F, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0031
This was one of those opportunistic purins.
It was nothing to write home about, to be honest. It was cute and it tasted good, but not great. I prefer my purin with a darker more bitter caramel that accentuates the contrast between sweet and bitter.
How To Get It
We just happened to be in in Hibiya Midtown (a really nice place to watch the sunset, if you’re ever interested!) We took a break from the cold and this place had a sign board that advertised purin.
This guy did come on a pretty plate and the space that the restaurant was in was cute though!
Address: Ikkaku, 1-1-2 Tokyo Midtown Hibiya 3F Hibiya Central Market, Yurakucho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0006
Sign Kichijoji · Sign吉祥寺
Again, this was an opportunistic purin stop…I wonder what that says about me?!
It was a perfect slice of purin, deeply burnished on the top, going into a lovely pale yellow on the bottom topped off with a dollop of softly whipped cream and a cherry. I loved it! And you know what?! It tasted AMAZING. Even Mike agreed and he didn’t really care for the majority of the purin that we tired. It was firm near the caramelized part and soft and silky near the top. The textural contrast was to-die-for and the flavor was bang on too: not too sweet but sweet enough. This was a purin where I didn’t mind the lack of bitterness from a more dark caramel because it was balanced right. I kind of wanted to order another one immediately, but I stopped myself.
How To Get It
We were wandering around the Atre in Kitchijoji when I saw a pastry case with what looked like a purin cake, I was like, please, please, let’s go here. The branding of the cafe looked pretty cute so we put our names down even though it looked like there were a million seats inside. While we were waiting, I looked up reviews of the place and they were all horrible. Seriously, so so bad. But when I started telling Mike, the hostess called us so we just sat down. I ordered the purin and a coffee and Mike had a beer (notice a pattern? LOL) The purin came and I was SO happy. I don’t know if it was because I was sitting down and had caffeine or if it was because it was just so pretty. It really was pretty, in a perfectly retro diner sort of way.
I’m really quite sad we didn’t order a second slice of pudding. Now I’m thinking, why!? With Covid here I may never get another chance especially since the reviews for this place are most definitely going to shut it down. Anyway, the service did leave something to be desired and we didn’t try any of the other food, but that purin…so good!
Address: Sign Kichijoji, 1-1-24 Kichijoji Minamicho Atre Kichijoji Honten 1F, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0003
Along with all of the cafe purin I had, I also indulged in multiple purin from the combini, supermarkets, and department stores. Most of the time I just got combini purin but I did manage to try one purin from a famous takeaway purin shop!
Marlowe is surprisingly not in the Tokyo pudding book – there’s a section in the back for takeaway and store-bought purin – and I could not for the life of me understand why. Mike and I were discussing it and concluded that maybe everyone knows about Marlowe so there was no need to include it? Marlowe started way back in 1984 in Kanagawa (you probably know that woodblock print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa) as a restaurant but they quickly became known for their purin, which they made in little glass beakers.
The beakers are so popular that people collect them. They have special collaborations with things like Hello Kitty and Star Wars, so it kind of makes you want to get them all. They also do limited time and seasonal flavors and all their purin is made with exclusive ingredients and they really shine through.
I tried to pop it out perfectly into a purin dish (yes, we went to go buy a purin dish!) and it wasn’t the best looking but it tasted so good: smooth and firm with a generous amount of caramel that is just the right amount of bitter. Plus it’s kind of giant. Bigger than any other purin I’ve had. Super satisfying.
How To Get It
Marlowe just recently opened in Tokyo and I didn’t know about it so I was extra surprised and happy when one day Mike randomly suggested we go into the super swank Ginza Six and head down to the food hall. The rows and rows of purin were extra enticing, but I just bought one which I now regret with a passion because I loved the purin but I also really love the beaker that it came in. It’s such a perfect souvenir.
Marlowe is one of the top purin in all of Japan and it’s really no surprise.
Address: Marlowe Ginza, 6-10 GINZA SIX B2f, Ginza, Tokyo 104-0061
Purin I did not eat but desperately wanted to
こぬれ広尾Conure is a reservations-only sweets shop that has no menu. It has esoteric hours and is out in Hiroo, somewhere where tourists don’t often go. We stopped by to see if we could grab one of their takeout purins – they sell them all day long, until they sell out – but even though we got there before noon the friendly grandma shook her head sadly at me. Their purin is the kind that is sliced, firm and smooth with a side of caramel, whipped cream, and rum raisins. Unfortunately it looks like Conure is one of the casualties of Corona so I guess I will never get to taste their deliciousness.
I am obsessed with how Feb’s serves their purin. It looks so retro and cute to me: in a little silver dish with a perfect dollop of whipped cream and a candy red cherry. Mike and I tried going here three times! Once, they were randomly closed, one day we got there only to realize that they only sell their purin on certain days and the final time we tried they were open, but sold out! We got there early-ish, but they start selling their purin at 9am and sell out really early. RIP in peace Feb’s. Maybe I’ll get to try you as take-away one day.
This wouldn’t be a complete write up without a shoutout to all the purin that we tried to get and couldn’t because of availability or line-ups. We tried to hit up Are, Kaiso, and Coffeehouse Nishiya. I wonder if they’re any good?
Well, if you made this this far, you must be a fellow purin lover?! I hope one day travel will open up to Japan again and you get a chance to eat purin in Tokyo! Once you taste it, you too will be forever changed.
Until then, purin and melon soda, and all retro Japanese desserts forever,
PS – If you want to make your own purin at home, I have a retro Japanese purin recipe right here!
PPS – If you are traveling in Japan with someone who isn’t a huge purin fan, don’t worry, the places that sell purin are usually coffee shops (oddly a lot of curry cafes sell purin too but we didn’t go to any of those) so your other can always just order coffee. They also usually sell beer, so if they’re like Mike, beer is an option too. Purin, coffee, and beer is the perfect break 🙂
Read Full Article https://iamafoodblog.com/the-search-for-perfect-purin-in-tokyo/