NIPPONIA No. 45 June 15, 2008


Bon Appetit!   Japanese Culture in the Kitchen

New types of purin are gaining a faithful following in Japan, including a soft creamy variety (front), and unusual ones flavored with matcha green tea, pumpkin and black sesame seeds.


It would be hard to imagine any Japanese person—young or old, male or female—not liking it. Take a bite and the soft sweetness of the egg and milk works its magic on the bittersweet taste of the caramel. And then the silky smooth texture dissolves away...

Purin is easy to make. Mix eggs, milk and sugar, coat a mold with caramel, pour the mixture into the mold, heat and then chill. Pop it out of its mold, and a glistening mound of purin is there, ready to eat.

Many Japanese mothers make it at home, and of course you can buy it in stores, too, ready to spoon out from the container straight into your mouth. Purin comes in different flavors and from different recipes. How about eggs and milk from the finest farms, or a soft and creamy variety, or something with a Japanese flair, with matcha green tea or black sesame seeds? There is more to the humble purin than you may think.

As you may have guessed, the word purin comes from the English word “pudding.” The British pudding that inspired the Japanese purin was apparently first made around the end of the 1500s during the age of sail, when leftover breadcrumbs on sailing ships were mixed with flour, lard and eggs, and then steamed. Over time, bread and fruit were added, and a sweet custard pudding was developed, hardened only with liquid egg.

Pudding probably came to Japan around 1860, after an Englishman opened a European-style hotel in Yokohama. The fancy hotel introduced various types of Western food to Japan, perhaps puddings as well. But of all the types that would have been served, only custard pudding has remained a hit with the Japanese.

Shiseido Parlour in Tokyo’s fashionable Ginza district has roots going back more than 100 years, and it added purin to its menu in 1931. Even back then they spruced up the custard with ice cream and fruit, but now some guests want just purin for their dessert, and the restaurant is happy to oblige.

“Eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla for the fragrance—that’s all. We use egg yolk and egg white at a ratio of 6 to 1. That gives a nice rich flavor, a consistency not too soft, and a texture just firm enough,” explains Shiseido Parlour’s chef, Hashimoto Kazuhisa. And he is right—the restaurant, now a well-known Ginza spot—serves a delectable purin loved by generations of Japanese.

Many kinds of purin are now available in Western-style bakeries, supermarkets and convenience stores. Specially made purin are in a class all their own, of course, but cheaper varieties hold their own when it comes to taste. Maybe that is the secret behind the almost universal admiration that purin enjoys in Japan.