Ask anyone this question, and you'll likely get one of three answers:
-The highest mountain in the Swiss Alps. -The German maker of fine watches and fountain pens. -No idea.
Ask any Japanese the same question, however, and prepare to find yourself on the receiving end of a passionate exposition on smooth chestnut purée, fluffy nama cream and the top patisseries in the immediate vicinity. Indeed, in Japan, the mont blanc refers to a dessert and not just any dessert; but an exquisite confection that has become the nation's favorite western-style sweet by far. When pressed for a more concrete explanation, my Japanese friend rubbed his chin thoughtfully, and then simply told me to try it, as if that would do the trick.
It did. The mont blanc is simply amazing.
Adapted from a similar french pastry, the Japanese have since made the mont blanc their own (as they do with every other cuisine). A typical Japanese mont blanc has a sponge cake base, upon which nama cream and rich chestnut cream are layered. Often, a whole chestnut is then pressed into the cream for added taste and texture. Lastly, it is generously topped with long piped strings of chestnut purée. This gives the mont blanc its distinctive spaghetti-like appearance.
Sounds simple, but the combination of flavors here are nothing short of magical. Some patisseries have experimented with replacing chestnut with yam or sweet potato; others add on fresh fruits or chocolate for added flavor. Whatever it is, it works. And it has taken the entire country by storm.
Just how deeply has the dessert captured the imaginations of the Japanese people?
Mont blanc Kit-Kat? Check. Mont blanc Fujiya Chocolate? Check. Mont blanc Pepsi?? Check that as well, although it was available only in 2010.
Having achieved such popularity, you would imagine the mont blanc would long have been picked up as an major export commodity. Unfortunately, difficulty in maintaining the mont blanc's form and freshness makes it difficult for major food industry players to package it like other famous Japanese sweets such as the dango, daifuku or yatsuhashi. This probably explains why you haven't yet seen it in Japanese supermarkets or bakeries outside of Japan.
If you are visiting Japan, then trying the mont blanc should definitely be on your to-do-list. The proliferation of this dessert means almost every Japanese patisserie will have its own version of the mont blanc, and it is nigh impossible for me to come up with an exhaustive list of must-try mont blanc.
To help you along, however, here's a starter list of three patisseries in Tokyo famous for their mont blanc:
1) Café de Ginza Miyuki-Kan
This was the place recommended to me. Café de Ginza Miyuki-Kan prides itself on its mont blanc, and has become synonymous with the dessert amongst Japanese in Tokyo. The mont blanc here comes in a set (served with a drink of choice) at ¥1400, which is slightly pricy but as expected of a Café in Ginza.
Café de Ginza Miyuki-Kan operates 5 outlets in Ginza. They are relatively close to each other, and can all be accessed from the Metro Ginza Station.
It doesn't get more authentic than this. The birthplace of the Japanese mont blanc, this luxurious patisserie retails its surprisingly affordable Mont Blanc at ¥620. The patisserie is located at Jiyugaoka, Tokyo and also has a café on its premises if you wish to eat in. Queues are long, so be prepared to come before high-tea hours.
Address details on the article are for this patisserie. Mont-Blanc is a 2 minute walk from Jiyugaoka Station serving both Tokyu Oimachi Line and Tokyu Toyoko Line.
3) Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest
Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest is famous for its 8 Cafés-in-1 concept, and is popular with the young female crowd. If you want to indulge in all sorts of dessert at the same time, this is the place to go. The Mont Blanc is constantly updated by the pastry chefs here, and the limited edition at the time of writing is the 'Mont Blanc a la Minut Style.' and will set you back ¥1200. Jiyugaoka Sweets Forest is a 10 minute walk from Jiyugaoka Station serving both Tokyu Oimachi Line and Tokyu Toyoko Line.
Don't forget to make a date with the mont blanc on your next trip to Japan, and experience for yourself the dessert that has taken the nation by storm. No matter where you decide to enjoy your first mont blanc, you can be sure they will be made with the signature Japanese attentiveness to detail and quality.