Japan has two seemingly incompatible obsessions when it comes to food. The first one is sweets – whether it be ice cream, cookies, cake, parfaits, chocolates, pudding, you name it – people in Japan really love their desserts. It is not uncommon to find an all-you-can-eat “sweets buffet” in many of the country’s urban areas. The second is obsessing over the nutritional value or health benefits of everything people eat. Often on Japanese menus, restaurants like to describe how consuming certain ingredients in the food benefit aspects of one’s health. For example, eating intestines and other animal parts is supposed to increase your “stamina”, while konjac jelly is known for its “stomach cleansing” properties.
In any case, no matter how you try to spin it, consuming desserts can hardly be considered healthy. At least I thought so, until I discovered Kaga Onsen’s obsession: the vegetable parfait.
During the summer, Japan is usually unbearably hot. Consuming copious amounts of delectable ice cream becomes irresistible. And while that may a dangerous move for our waistlines, the town of Kaga has figured out a fashionable way for all of us to have our cake, and our health too. Each of Kaga’s cute cafes offer its own rendition of the veggie parfait, an ice cream sundae composed almost entirely of vegetable ingredients.
I had the opportunity to try one of these babies on our recent trip to Kaga Onsen on FanFest 2017. Dessert for lunch! And a healthy one at that. The parfait came to our table perfectly arranged, accompanied by a pot of tea, to make it extra healthy. The top of the parfait was decorated with several veggie toppings, including daikon radish, carrot, sweet potato, beans, fried onions, and spinach leaf, followed by scoops of broccoli and ginger ice cream. The layer underneath included a green vegetable sponge cake, puffed grain and whipped cream. The bottom layer was a beautiful pumpkin puree.
So was it dessert? Was it a glorified salad? What was it?
The Kaga parfait is a dish that is bound to confuse your taste buds. While we had all the ingredients of a salad in a cup, the savory-sweet combination of the broccoli ice cream, the green cake and the whipped cream tied everything together into something that was clearly meant to be tasted and experienced as a dessert. While I could have personally done without the whipped cream, it would have been incomplete without it. The pumpkin puree provided a delicate, refreshing finish. None of it was sickeningly sweet. This is about as close as you can get to a healthy dessert, as each ingredient is packed with nutrient-rich veggie goodness. I’m not sure how long the Kaga parfait will stick around, but for a truly unique flavor experience, catch this culinary conundrum at Kaga Onsen while it lasts!