Iiyama’s Winter Speciality
Neat rows of Banana Boats fill the display cases of traditional Japanese sweet shops, brightening the snow-covered streets of Iiyama.
Why is that traditional Japanese confectioners start making Western style sweets with bananas in winter?
There are clear differences in recipes and taste between each shop.
Sweets Masters tell all!
What makes your Banana boat special?
–So Master, I hear you’ve also trained as a Western pastry chef?
Yeah, a long time ago now. That’s why once a year, at Christmas, I would bake cakes. About 50 years ago, there just weren’t any cake shops around here. One time, I came across a demonstration sale for Swiss roll cakes at a department store. I started thinking this would make another great winter-only treat to go alongside the Christmas cakes. I wrapped the Swiss roll cake around a banana and came up with the Banana Boat.
–I see! So it was originally a Swiss roll cake.
Some stores cook them like omelettes, but our cakes are baked in a Castella tin and then sliced. Because we make them inbetween our Wagashi, or Japanese style sweets, we can only make a hundred per day. Thanks to the local community’s love for them they usually sell out by lunchtime.
–There’s a sign saying “Banana Boat”out the front.
Around October, my customers start asking whether it’s Banana Boat season yet, so I decided to let everyone know with this sign. It feels like winter’s here when that sign goes up, and that it’s spring when it comes down. It’s fine that some sweets are available all year round, but I want to keep the tradition of appreciating seasonality through sweets.
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 1149
New Year’s (Jan 1st & 2nd)
–This Banana Boat has a crepe as well as a sponge cake all rolled up!
Yep, this has been our way for years. The multiple layers of crepe, sponge cake, and fresh cream wrapped around a banana. It’s some 30 years ago now, during my apprentienceship in France (joking!), that I learned how to make them.
–The crepe adds a great texture. Do you only make them in winter too?
Yeah, until about mid-April. Fresh cream and bananas are too easy to spoil in hot weather. Because of it’s popularity with the ski crowd, we sell the most around New Year’s. We made so many back in the ski boom!
–What beverage would you recommend to have with a Banana Boat?
I guess coffee or tea because it’s a western sweet. I personally prefer Shochu, or Japanese spirits, though!
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 3074
(Dec～Mar 〜18:00) Closed:New Year’s (Jan 1st & 2nd)
–I heard Miyoshiya has a long history. How many generations has it been around for?
My father was the 3rd generation Master, and I’m the 4th. My great-grandfather established this place as a Japanese confectionary shop in the Meiji period, and we only started making western cakes maybe 30 years ago. I remember when I was in primary school, in winter our display cases will be filled with Christmas cakes, short cakes, and always next to them, Banana Boats.
–You’ve been eating them since you were a kid!
It’s only recently I realised that this affinity for Banana Boats is a particular Iiyama characteristic. I thought it was like a strawberry shortcake – a household favourite all across Japan!
–So the Banana Boat recipe has been passed on for generations. Have you added your own touch?
The basic process it the same. But I’ve brought in my experiences from apprenticeships at western sweet shops in flavouring the cream and baking the sponge cake. The fundamental charm of the Banana Boat is it’s simplicity. I hope it stays an accessible favourite for generations to come.
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 3295-3
Closed:Tuesdays (Open on public holidays)
–Whoa, the Banana Boat at Fukudaya is huge!
People seeing it for the first time are often shocked and have no idea what it is. But for it’s size it’s surprisingly easy to finish. I often hear back from customers that they initially thought “I’ll just have half”… and ending up devouring the whole thing.
–Do you bake your sponge cake in a round tin?
We started making these around in 1975, and at that time we just happened to have an aluminium tin at just the right size. We used it to bake them one by one, so we can give each cake sufficient attention. My son has apprenticed at western sweet shops though, so when he makes them his way, he uses a proper sponge cake tin.
–Are most of your costomers skiers?
It’s not so pronounced recently, but before we’d be making 800 over New Year’s and couldn’t even visit the shrine! The good thing about Banana Boats is that they’re Namagashi, or raw sweets, but not the charactersitic high maintanance sweet. You can pop them in a pocket, or eat them in a car. I hope it stays accessible option amongst all the other Namagashi.
Address:Iiyama City, Ichinokuchi Iiyama 3387
Closed:Every 2nd and 4th Tuesday
–Kirakudo is renowned for the “Chiyo no Ume”(Eternal Plum) sweet. Why did you decide to make Banana Boats?
Since my great-grandfather established this shop and it’s star, “Chiyo no Ume”, the focus had been traditional Japanese Wagashi and Wagashi only. Western sweets was something I gradually started, brought back from my experiences working in Tokyo. We didn’t make Banana Boats straight away – we started making them maybe 20 years ago. Omelettes are a classic western dessert, and our overall creation process sticks to the traditions. I cook the cakes one by one on a hot griddle.
–The golden brown colour looks so tempting. What beverage would you have with it?
It is a traditional sweet after all, so how about tea?
–I heard your other western sweets are really popular too!
Depending on the day, we make everything from profitteroles to Swiss rolls. I guess our customers are mostly young mothers and their children.
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 1201-2
Closed:New Year’s (Jan 1st)
–What’s a Banana Boat?
I guess it’s most commonly an inflatable ride. There are quite a few people who tell me they’ve been on one! But in Iiyama it’s something to eat.
–Oh, there are raisons inside!
That’s right. We started making Banana Boats for the Jihoten exhibition, but by this time there were a lot of shops with established recipe, so we experimented with many arrangements. We thought this way, using 2 types of cream, was the best. It’s a pattiserie’s Banana Boat, with the classic Omelette shape. It’s full of cream so it might be the softest out of the lot.
–Can you eat Janquugo Banana Boats all year round?
How many we make depends on the day, but we do make it all year around because we’re a cake shop. Come have a peak in warmer weather – if we have the flag out, Banana Boats are on sale.
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 3152-1
Closed:Mondays, New Year’s (Jan 1st)
–The bananas in the Saint Lorent Banana Boats are whole!
Yes. And for the cake, we use the local Nanohana Miyuki eggs, so it’s very light and fluffy. We smother it in fresh cream and top it with, you got it, an entire Banana.
–It has such a gentle taste! I think even a small child could devour the whole thing.
Though we only started officially selling them at the Jihoten Festival, the first time we actually made Banana Boats was at the request of the local kindergarten. We still only sell them in winter.
–So the yellow flag is our signal.
Yeah, a lot of our repeat customers come in after spotting our flag. I thought it was a sweet widely available across Japan, but this time we started producing them I realised it’s a distinctively Iiyama favourite.
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 146
–When was the Hirano Banana Boat established?
The Confectioner’s Union opened a Banana Boat Café at the Jihoten last year (2013). It’s since then, really. They were originally limited to winter, but we start selling them in early October because that’s when the annual Jihoten is held.
–You use two types of cream.
That’s right. There’s the condensed milk cream and the custard cream. They aren’t too sweet or rich though, and that might be why people find it light. We don’t take bookings, but we can reserve a few if you give us a call!
–What are Banana Boats to the people of Iiyama?
Hmm, it’s the integral Iiyama teatime snack. It’s not as fancy as actual cake, so it’s accessible. I’ve been asked to go to primary schools, to make it with the kids in class!
Address:Iiyama City, Iiyama 2228
Closed:Wednesdays, New Year’s (Jan 1st)
–I hear you actually used to make Banana Boats ages ago!
Years ago, I had the opportunity to learn how to make them from a pastry chef who came to Iiyama, all the way from Nagano. This time when we started producing them again, we’ve used the same methods, to keep that same taste. I guess to me Banana Boats taste like nostalgia.
–You have a yellow Banana Boat flag outside your shop!
Yep, this is the flag we made at the Confectioner’s Union, and a lot of people come in for Banana Boats when they see it. It’s so yellow and bright, it just jumps out at you!
–When do you sell Banana Boats?
Hmm, only really during winter, because we specialise in Wagashi, or Japanese sweets, after all. We usually make them until March, but it’s really up to the weather and how long it stays cold!
Address:Iiyama City, Minamimachi 9-5
Closed:New Year’s (Jan 1st)
–What’s a Mochigashi shop’s Banana Boat like?
Being a Mochigashi place, or rice cake confectionary shop, we didn’t originally make western sweets. But we decided that if we’re going to go all out and make them, our Banana Boats should be different. That’s why we use rice flour in our cakes. It makes them very moist. It’s a texture you’d only really find in a Mochi shop!
–Very true! And it looks like a very pretty half-moon.
We bake it on a round plate. I think the semicircle shape might be why it’s called a “Banana Boat”!
–What beverage will you recommend to have with a Baigetsu Banana Boat?
I’d say coffee for western sweets, but try the mochigashi Banana Boat with green tea.
Address:Iiyama City, Minamimachi 21-13